One more blogpost on the Canadian Rockies trip, then maybe a little Malcolm Gladwell. I will never forget the first Dove Bar that I ever ate. It was downtown on Connecticut Avenue when I was working for Hillel. Gail was with me. I couldn’t believe how good that ice cream treat tasted, like nothing I had experienced before. We both remember the moment vividly. A few months later, I had another Dove Bar. Great, but not unbelievable. And the third? Nice, nothing so special. That was more than thirty years ago; I haven’t had more than one or two since.
So it was on my Canadian Rockies ride. The first day I stopped the bike countless times – even though I never stop (as anyone I ride by in Bethesda will attest) – to marvel at the mountains and take dozens of photos. Each successive day, though the landscape remained spectacular, I stopped less frequently and took fewer pictures. The sense of wonder was fading. It bothered me, much more than the Dove Bar experience, because this was God’s handiwork and I was starting to take it for granted.
Why were we created with a sense of wonder that doesn’t have so much staying power? I ponder that often. I think it’s part of a larger category of human reaction = we get used to things. That is both a good and bad quality. Good for example when it comes to terrible news, which we hear so relentlessly nowadays. When there is a horrific terror attack or natural disaster, the kind that used to take away our breath, and now when we hear the news we say to ourselves, “well, fortunately only x number of people died from that,” the quality of “getting used to things” has been activated and we can avoid being paralyzed by the news. I worry that we are becoming too used to bad news and our sensitivity to human suffering is being dulled, but it’s a coping mechanism that makes life less gloomy and more bearable.
But what about the sense of wonder when it comes to nature, or human creativity, or athletic accomplishment (as we just saw in Rio)? How do we succeed in NOT getting used to that? Obviously, I haven’t solved this one for myself. We saw that in the Rockies. All I can suggest are three strategies: 1) try to keep the kid alive in each of us because kids see wonder all over the place, 2) frequent places like parks and art museums where nature and human creativity are on display, and 3) be like Moses.
Moses experienced God because when he saw a bush burning he stopped long enough to see that miraculously it wasn’t burning up. Most of us would have seen it and as long as it didn’t pose a danger we would have kept walking. There is wonder all around us if we stop long enough to see it.
Wishing you at least a few moments of wonder in the coming months. Best, Bill Rudolph