“Look! Look at the mountains!” Though he had traveled this same road hundreds of times, seen these same mountains for 60 of his 90 years, my grandfather always pointed them out to me. A down-to-earth, savvy businessman into old age, his wonder was all the more touching. And it seems to have been genetic: my father, too, marvels at those mountains — which he has seen for 70 of his 80 years. He picks a tiny piece of cedar, rubs it in his hands, and gives it to me to smell, a smile playing about his mouth — just as his father did for him.
I think about my grandfather at this time of year, since he died on June 23. But I have also been thinking about him as we Sisters listen to the late Fr. Thomas Dubay’s talks on wonder. If one were truly alive, Father says, one would never be bored. Boredom is the lived sadness of pride, wonder the lived joy of humility. In humility, one recognizes the glory in the smallest things.
We are often blind to the wonders around us. Think of Mother Teresa. Her sisters in the teaching community from which God called her to found the Missionaries of Charity saw nothing special in her. Her bishop, when a priest petitioned for consideration of her new foundation, quipped: “I know her. As a novice, she couldn’t even light the candles! And you want to make her superior of a new community?” And when St. Thérèse of Lisieux died, her superiors had to write, as they did for each deceased sister, a summary of her virtues and contributions. They were at a loss as to what to say: she was so ordinary, they thought.
A relative, a colleague, a rainy day — they may seem ordinary. But the wonder of a raindrop! And how does it compare to the wonder of a human soul, destined to live forever, destined for the closest, most ecstatic union with the Creator? “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses,” wrote C. S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory.” “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Maybe wonder is not genetic: for longer than I care to admit, I took little interest in the mountains or the sweetly scented cedar, preferring the blasé attitude I thought mature. Yet Granddad’s wonder wore off on me eventually. How can one resist such joy? Wonder may not be genetic, but it is teachable. So breathe in the tang of cedar this summer, stop to examine the delicate design of a leaf or flower petal, smile at an “ordinary person” — and wonder!
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.