Reflecting on wonder

“The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.” -Abraham Joshua Heschel
Epigraph in Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
(Foer, Thuras, & Morton).

On the first week back to school after the holidays, I spent time covering classes and duties for colleagues who are out due to COVID protocols. I arrived on campus each day not knowing what I’d be called on to do. This has been the pattern for the whole school year thus far, in fact, and it may continue until June…

But I am not going to focus on the intensified daily juggling act.

I will concentrate on the unexpected moments of light…such as when a colleague told me that my iPhone could understand spoken Harry Potter spells.

This I had to see for myself.

Hey, Siri: Lumos...and my flashlight came on. (Lumos is the spell that makes wands and lamps light up in the books in and movies, for those who don’t know).

Hey, Siri: Nox…and my flashlight turned off.

Hey, Siri: Accio Twitter…and my Twitter app opened up in my phone.

Tell me this is not a great wonder, technology.

Furthermore, the knowledge came in handy when I filled in for quarantined teachers in upper grades. I demonstrated the “magic” and wowed the kids.

That’s the thing about wonders…you want to share them. Wonders are not meant to be contained. They are contagious. They are forever beckoning and burgeoning.

So maybe the magic of Siri understanding Harry Potter is a small thing.

Maybe a greater wonder is finding the right book to inspire a reluctant reader. This past week it was not Harry Potter but books about children with physical limitations and differences who face extreme challenges. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. And, of course, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. They grip you from the start…

I pause to reflect here on all the wonder wrought by books in my own life. I feel the covers tingling with magic whenever I pick them up (maybe it’s just my anticipation).

Last week I watched the wonder on kids’ faces as they learned how a prism or raindrop separates light into colors. I watched in wonder as two students known for behavior issues stayed on task to complete their assignments when they were allowed to work together.

I thought, randomly, about the fireworks that went off in the distance on New Year’s Eve. My six-year-old granddaughter was spending the night. My husband and I allowed her to stay up. She heard the booming of the fireworks at midnight and wanted to see them. We went out on the back deck, but fog and trees obscured our view.

I’ve never gotten to see fireworks, said my granddaughter.

One day you will, I told her.

I like the sound of them. It makes me feel calm.

That filled me with wonder…I have never heard anyone express that about the sound of fireworks. Least of all a child.

Maybe the calmness has not so much to do with the sound but the place and the sense of safety…these are linked in their way to wonder. The unexpected, the new, a bit of uncertainty but also an embracing. The opening Heschel quote encapsulates it well: The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.

Like a bright, beckoning burst suddenly illuminating a moment, a mind, a spirit.

Do you remember spending last New Year’s Eve with us, too? my husband asked our granddaughter.

Oh yeah! Can I stay here next year, too? And the one after that?

Sure you can! You can stay every New Year’s Eve if you want.

Even when I am fifty-nine?

Yes, even when you are fifty-nine.

Wonders upon wonders await.

Of this, I am sure.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge and the wondrous community of writers.

20 thoughts on “Reflecting on wonder

  1. Great quotation! When I read your writing, I always wonder what you are going to write next. I’m glad you are concentrating on the unexpected moments of light and wonder. Sounds like you’re sharing your light and magic all over your school. I will have to check out my iPhone. Yay, to sharing the books Wonder and Out of My Mind; I loved both books! I love your granddaughter’s words,
    “Oh yeah! Can I stay here next year, too? And the one after that?” I resonate with those words because I enjoyed staying overnight at my grandparent’s house on New Year’s Eve, too. Fran, thank you for sharing your positivity, your light, and wonder. Your posts always bring me joy. Happy New Year!

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    • Gail, you make me smile when you say you wonder what I will write next. I wonder the same thing! I try to stay open to whatever comes and for whatever I write to be uplifting or at least reflective – there’s already too much negativity out there. Your words always bring me joy also – please know. Thank you 🙂

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  2. I can’t help but notice that your examples of wonder involve mostly interactions with children–not that adults can’t feel wonder, of course, but I think we lose the sense of it if we aren’t guided by these younger mentors on the subject on a regular basis. I sometimes lament not working in a “grownup” environment (societal restrictions on children seem to be applied to their teachers, even in personal lives, which has always chafed me a bit), but the upside is exactly what you described–the exposure to wonder every day. I will keep my eye out for that, today, thanks to your reminder.

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    • Chris, I think about how the worries and care of adulthood clutter the mind, leaving less room for wonder and subsequently less room for peace. Sometimes in the adult circles there’s a feeding-frenzy of negativity…have been thinking about writing on this. Not so much with children, generally. For them, the world is new and fascinating. They instinctively trust. Their perspective and their questions and their pronouncements are endlessly intriguing. There’s something so utterly poignant about sharing something with a child and experiencing their “oohhhhhhhhh” moments of wonder and awe with them – a reminder that it is still possible for us! Many thanks-

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  3. I like the quote you started with. However, I think this needs to become a quote by YOU made into a poster to start future posts: “That’s the thing about wonders…you want to share them. Wonders are not meant to be contained. They are contagious. They are forever beckoning and burgeoning.” You perfectly matched those lines with your granddaughters moment. Thanks for sharing. Your slide today calmed me.

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  4. It is a wonder that you choose to focus on Awe and not on the chores of filling in for absent teachers. Your positivity is inspiring. You also help me realize that offering my grandchildren a safe place to be is important. They are too young to express it yet, but I know it’s there. I plan to wow my kids with Harry Potter spells and Siri today.

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  5. What a beautiful slice today – a slice filled with children, the magic, the wonder…..the promise. Your quote at the beginning is one I’ll keep near me – I’m collecting some of those this year that really stick with me so I can surround myself with all the best thoughts. The Harry Potter magic I simply cannot wait to try. Your granddaughter’s feeling of calm in the midst of what so many might consider not-so-calming fireworks reminds me of the word hygge, one that I have come to understand takes the raging blizzard outside the cozy cabin to bring the feeling of comfort inside. These moments you share in words are forever preserved……and I’m sure that this is one you’ll all be reading again when she’s spending her 59th New Year’s Eve with you! Be well, be blessed, be awed!

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    • Love this idea of “surrounding myself with the best thoughts” – we could all aspire to do this more, Kim. I recall reading of hygge – I am sure it was in your writing! A fascinating word and concept. Winter is an especially good time to revisit it…I think in a way, perhaps, I am always striving for or cultivating hygge. Thanks for reminding me of this warm-blanket-crackling-fire-on-the-hearth-while-watching-snowfall-through-the-frosted-window word.

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  6. You collated a range of ‘wonder’ connotations here, and got me from the start with your Siri impressions of Harry Potter spells. (I’m a Harry Potter fan, of course.) Inquiry-based learning relies on developing wonderings, and I used the intro to the movie “Wonder” as a mentor-text with my students, focusing on beginning lines to stories…very powerful, in fact. But, I loved your obvious poet’s brain with your line, ‘Like a bright, beckoning burst suddenly illuminating a moment, a mind, a spirit.” – and I think it’s this definition that will stay with me – a wonder filled line!

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  7. I’m on day four of substituting until my classroom can open back up. I had a positive case, and my students can’t return until January 20th. Filling in where needed has certainly been the struggle that I knew it would be. I’ve made an effort to find humor in it and to enjoy the freedom. Thank you for the reminder that wonders upon wonders await!

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    • Thank you, Karen. I am delighted with this image of you casting spells with your phone! Must tell you that the “Accio Twitter” spell hasn’t worked for me since I posted (it did before), but FB & IG still open on the command. Haven’t tried other apps yet. More magic to play with!

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  8. Fran, you always fill my heart with awe for the deepness of thought you provide, the little vignettes with children, especially your granddaughter, Scout, that you share, and your beautiful way with words. Wonder coincides with awe and opens a world of possibilities. I can see why you want to continue with your one word, awe. It lights up the sky for you and others who read your blogs.

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