Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Sense of Wonder

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

Oh Rockies

More, as promised, on the Rockies bike ride. From your responses, I am indeed the last person to see Banff and Lake Louise and environs, and grateful to have finally had the opportunity. When I am riding, I keep my eyes on the road, hoping to avoid potholes and other obstacles as well as driver irregularities. I don’t look at the scenery very much as a result. So it was awesome on the last day, not even a week ago,  when we basically retraced our route from Jasper back to Banff. It was 182 miles, though we biked more than 250 in the end. I wasn’t driving the van and had hours to observe the mountains and glaciers and snow caps.

The predominant feeling I had was of my littleness. It’s true I am not very tall, but even Manute Bol is little compared to these massive stone mountains. I felt like a spec on the landscape besides being a spec in the world population (most of who seem to be here as I noted.). It is actually a very religious feeling. Think about the great cathedrals. I have been to one of them, St. Patrick’s, with our Confirmation classes, and when you sit in the pews and look up you feel so little. I think that is purposeful, to remind us of the words of the Psalmist, “what is man that Thou (God) are mindful of him?”

So what is the value of feeling little? Isn’t religion supposed to build us up, as in “little lower than the angels,” not make us feel small? I think this feeling keeps us humble, and humility as you may know is one of my favorite values. We ARE but a spec. AND what our spec accomplishes in life is mostly a matter of luck – where we are born and to whom, where we grow up, what career path falls into place, etc. We should spend a lot of time contemplating all of this: not thinking we deserve everything we have or are ultimately important to the human endeavor, having the perspective and gratitude that we should have for what we have. Awesome mountains and great cathedrals are wonderful teachers.

So, should we tear down Beth El and build something more cathedral like? Temple Emanuel in NYC was built precisely to prove that Jews could have cathedrals too. It sleeps 2500 and is quite impressive. It would make good sense to go there occasionally for the feelings it produces, and save our $$ for other ways of building our future. Or just go to the Rockies. Not only to remember our littleness, but to see God’s handiwork in full measure.

Ponder all this, and have a good Shabbat and weekend. Where did the summer go?
Best, Bill Rudolph

Oh, Canada

Shalom. Writing from Jasper Canada, where I am completing my bike ride provided as a retirement gift from Beth El. I got to choose the ride, they/you provided the scholarship which is one of the nicest gifts I have received. There is so much to say – just chapter headings for now.

The Canadian Rockies, so indescribably beautiful, my first time seeing them. The retreating glaciers, not critical to world well being but almost certainly the “canary” in the environmental coal mine. The biking, lots of hills, I didn’t shame you. The 15 riders, including an NFL tight end now an orthopedic surgeon, an exec with the largest can manufacturer in the world (you should see his bike!), an OB-GYN, some teachers and corporate trainers, an equities analyst. The weather, 40 degrees when we start off in the morning; I am wearing three bike jackets most of the day. I understand it’s been otherwise back home. The rains, everyday but one, evenings spent drying things. The tourists, mostly from Asia, so many that I think if you called there nobody would answer. Canada, second largest country in the world from a physical standpoint but with fewer people than California, which means a lot of undeveloped space which Canadians in their RV’s seem intent on exploring. The RV’s are nice till they are passing two feet away going 90 kph.

I look forward to returning to blog production after a nice break, including more on some topics above as well as summer reading commentary. You hear enough about the election, so I will endeavor to spare you my wisdom on that.

Wishing you all a good Shabbat and nice weekend. Best to you from the very nice Jasper Park Lodge.  Bill Rudolph