The Nature of Things
The god of wonder is among us
By Ashley Wahl
If Cupid is the god of love, then the god of wonder must also be an impish child. Surely you’ve seen him. No, he doesn’t always strike with a golden bow.
Late last fall, driving somewhere between Greensboro and Raleigh on a busy stretch of 1-40, something caught my eye as I came upon a pedestrian bridge spanning the highway.
A father was walking across the bridge with his two children. The smallest, a little boy, was waving at the world below as if he were his own parade, cars flashing by like meteors on the blacktop beneath him. It reminded me of how my brother and I used to pump our arms at truckers on the highway — the glee we felt when they blasted their horns; the disappointment when they didn’t. I gave the boy a quick wave back, sure he wouldn’t notice.
What happened next surprised me. All those passing cars and yet, somehow, he did notice.
And I noticed that he noticed.
And within this simple and unexpected moment of acknowledgement — this silent “I see you” — the little boy jumped up and down as if he’d just made contact with an alien species.
His joy struck me like an ocean wave. Whatever transpired in those three timeless seconds was somehow bigger than us. It felt like a quantum shift. Like a glimpse of an alternate reality where we weren’t so different, that child and this writer. Like we had both tapped into the same current of wonder.
I shared this little story on social media and was further amazed by the comments that followed.
“The people on passing ferries always wave,” one friend offered.
Others shared childhood memories of waving at planes.
Many noted similar experiences — mundane yet sacred — that had moved them to tears.
Scrolling the thread, it occurred to me that this universal current of wonder had more to do with awareness than it did with age. Everyday miracles abound. Children are just better at noticing them.
“Remind me to tell you about the deer I waved at,” was one friend’s response.
“I know that feeling,” wrote another. “Every time I see a leaf fall, I remember a child becoming ecstatic over this simple act of a tree releasing a leaf.”
Which brings me to a recent winter’s day and a leaf littered trail along the edge of Lake Brandt. On a crisp and sunny afternoon, my valentine and I walked among a quiet sea of bare-branched hardwoods, taking in sweeping views of vibrant blue skies and shimmering waters.
We passed one hiker with an elderly dog. Otherwise, the trail was ours. That is, until we came upon a boardwalk where Horse Pen Creek feeds into the lake.
There, a mother was standing in a patch of sunlight by the water’s edge. Although we didn’t yet see him, her son was quietly waiting beneath the boardwalk a few feet in front of us, his little fingers sticking out between the wooden planks. When I saw his tiny hand just below our feet, I gasped in surprise. It reminded me of E.T. peeking through the slats of the closet door.
“Hello up there!” the god of wonder sang out, gently wiggling his fingers.
His mother chided him for startling us, but we offered smiles.
“Well, hello down there!” we sang back.
And in that moment, his joy was our joy. And our joy was his joy. And, when it all boiled down, that joy was one and the same.
All of this to say that, if children are our future, there is hope for us yet. They are watching us closely, ready to remind us that we aren’t so different, that wonder is always accessible, that our waves, too, create oceans. OH
Contact editor Ashley Wahl at email@example.com.