- At the Desert Retreat House -
As I was leaving a restaurant yesterday after lunch, I noticed a small child, eyes open wide, gazing in wonder at a Christmas tree displayed in the entranceway. It wasn't much of a tree, cheap looking, artificial, a few strands of lights. In fact, I wouldn't have even stopped and noticed it at all had it not been for that little boy and the look on his face as he beheld what he saw to be a thing of marvelous beauty.
When I saw that little boy yesterday, I was flooded with memories of a Christmas-time back when I was about 6 years old. In those days I lived on a farm in a very rural area, and there was only one store in the little nearby town - a "General Store" where you could buy food for your table, gas for your car, tools, clothes, toys and farm equipment. I recall how amazed I always was whenever I entered this vast awesome space. It was such a wonder to behold, especially when Christmas came around with glimmering lights on decorated trees, Santa and his reindeer on display at the door, boughs and wreaths and ribbons everywhere you looked.
To this very day I can close my eyes and still remember the feeling I would get at Christmas time in that "wonder-filled" enchanted General Store.
Many years later as an adult and with children of my own, I convinced my wife and family to take an excursion with me out into the countryside. I wanted to relive some of my childhood memories and show off the beauty of that awe-inspiring store that had so gripped my imagination all those years ago.
We drove through winding wintry roads and finally arrived at the little farm town of my childhood days. I was happy to see that the old store was still open and I suspect it hadn't changed all that much over the years; however to my deep disappointment that magical place of my childhood memories was actually little more than a one-room, rundown shack with a broken down old gas pump outside. Inside everything smelled old and musty, the Christmas decorations consisted of a few dangling lights strung on an artificial tree - some cheap plastic ribbons stuck up in a few places on the wall.
Yes, this was indeed the same place where all the wonder and magic of childhood happened for me, only now I was looking at it all through adult eyes, and now all the magic was gone.
Rachel Carson once observed:
A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and enchantment. It is our misfortune that for most of us, that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.
If I could make a wish, I would ask that each child in the world would be given a gift of a sense of wonder, so indestructible that it would last throughout life as an unfailing antidote to the disenfranchisement of later years.
As I sit in my garden at the dawn of a new day here in the desert, I think about all the many people who today will get up and go about the everyday busyness of their ordinary "boring" lives, oblivious to all the beauty that surrounds them - the same old place, the same old people, the same old answers to the same old questions. "Been there, done that!"
It seems to me that this holiday time might be a perfect season for all of us "adults" to restore a sense of "wonder" to our ordinary lives - taking nothing for granted, gazing at everything and everyone in every moment with fresh new eyes, seeing it as all brand new and beautiful.
What a gift it would be to be able to do this.
Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.
Amen to that!