I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
– William Wordsworth.
It is my often spoken mantra that a good and healthy life does not depend on pills and portions or exercise or diet or relationships. An approach to a healthy lifestyle means you take an all encompassing approach. There are for instance the decaying wealthy sitting in their Miami enclaves waiting for that one special serum which will make them live forever. But if they have lost that sense of wonder what will their long life in retirement be?
Nature has given older people the ability to wonder, primarily because they have the time and they are not troubled by day to day chores. My grandmother used to be one of those lucky human beings. We sort of owned the village cemetery. The land was donated to the church by my great-grand-mother so that the villagers who were all descended from one family could be buried there. It therefore was our duty to maintain it and also collect firewood from the land. My grandmother and I would go up in the evenings to collect kindling and clean up and stray debris from the graves. Generally the graves were clean green mounds with a wooden cross or a headstone. Nature kept the place clean. So we did not have much work to do. I would squat down finding some little thing of interest, a worm or a twig or a plant. My grandmother sat down with me and we could make up stories or go into dreams. Occasionally she would pull the catapult out of her waist band and shoot down a squirrel. She would light a fire under a tree and roast the squirrel for me, pulling the juicy bits and feeding me. I was about three and blissfully happy squatting there beside my grandmother. Today a billion pounds would not compensate me for the loss of that life.
I am glad I still carry that sense of wonder, to admire a flower, to admire a building not as an investment, but as an object. One of my greatest pleasures was to watch my children having this sense of wonder. I could see the world through their eyes once again. In the above picture two of them admire a tree full of blossoms. Even 20 years ago the trees bore healthy blossoms. Is it my imagination or are the blossoms looking more and more mangy? Maybe I am becoming a crabby old man. I see many of my friends who are my age becoming cynics. They grumble and frown and seem to be eternally saying in their minds “what’s the use”.
My answer to that is get out of that closed circuit and see the delights that are before us. Although nature is the most likely example there are other things to wonder at.
Recently man sent a probe to chase a down a comet. It was an exciting race; it took ten years; it traveled at the searing speed of 34,000 mph; it went five times round the sun and used the earth’s and mars’ gravitational pull to propel itself forward to achieve its final speed. In the end it caught up with the comet and is hovering 64 miles above it right now. What a strange and exciting story. Imagine this is a story told by a grand mother to a child. What a wonderful story it would be!#
To top it all the comet has a beautiful name. The name is Churyumov-Gerasimenko. “67P” to you and me. The media in its race to crow about man’s achievement, has lost the plot of the story. We just hear scientific details and some wet looking men and women clapping hands lukewarmly. A great object of wonder has become just a prosaic list of facts.
It is my plea to hold on to that sense of wonder despite the rush. You will live longer. It takes you out of yourself and into another world of grace or beauty or magnificence. I recently found the picture above of my children looking at the tree and I was struck by their attitude as they stood there looking up. I looked at this old family snapshot in a new way from then on and that gave me the inspiration for this post. So, you never know what gems you are overlooking.
I leave you with lines from my favourite poet T>S>Eliot.
“What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands
What water lapping the bow
And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog
What images return
O my daughter.”
In Marina, the poet recalls the wonder that King Pericles feels when he sees his daughter who he thought was dead, alive again.