Could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; and you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. – Khalil Gibran
At my grandmother’s last week. She is 94. Her iPad drives her crazy – Where do these ads come from? The news disturbs her. I don’t understand this Isis. Her breathing is difficult, raspy tufts of air that she pulls with effort.
I hope you never get this old, she says to me multiple times in our 48-hours together.
I know this is not what she means, but what I hear is: I hope you don’t live much longer. I hope you never suffer. I hope life comes to an abrupt and painless end.
This scares me – as much as Isis. I turn 49 in June, and my thoughts are about living – staying healthy enough to travel, to have time for my creative being, to explore and grow.
Who are the 94-year olds who still possess curiosity for this world? How do you hold on to wonder all the way to the horizon line?
I plant little mantras in my own psyche. Keep looking at art. Keep exploring the earth, even if it’s by flying over its surface via the Internet. Identify questions — the dinner conversation that leads to, “You know, I’ve never what that is!” — and pursue them doggedly. Open your heart – keep opening it – knowing that something has caused Isis to sprout, something is draining the water, something wants to kill the rhino. Some hate that needs love. Not simple – at all – but worth a daily effort.
I am oddly exhausted by my two days of sitting in her apartment watching CNN. Over and over with the Sanjay Gupta’s report on legalizing marijuana, the man who flew his little plane into the capitol, the gang rape on spring break. An endless loop of the surreal, the titillating. The same exhaustion that comes from sitting in a car for hours or waiting in a hospital. Waiting. That’s what it is – numb waiting.
“I remember horse and buggies,” my grandma says, taking off what she calls her “TV ears” to share an idea that’s occurred to her. “He would come and bring ice for our ice box.” She talks of men coming to the back door during the Depression, asking for food, and how her mother always had small jobs for them to do and then extra food. She tells of being the best clarinet player in her school but how each year the top award would go to a boy. “I told myself that if I won senior year, I’d go to college and become a music teacher; but of course a boy won again. I shouldn’t have made that promise with myself.” She recalls how her husband said, “No wife of mine is going to have a job!” — and so she didn’t. I’ve heard all of this stories before, but it is interesting that in her entire life of stories, these are the ones that resurface.
In Kenya there is one male white rhino left. One in the world. He’s been named Sudan and he is under 24/7 armed guard. The rhino species is more than 50 million years old. Imagine what lives in their species’ imaginations? their memory banks?
At the O’Hare yesterday, I watch the one rhino and the men with AK-47s who surround him. As though the Dalai Lama sat behind an electrical fence all day, surrounded by guards. Waiting. A few hours later, I’m at the grocery store and there on the shelf is a wine label with a rhino on it. In the moment, this feels like stepping on shards of glass. We can’t save this creature and his kind but we can sell wine with his image? We are all too good at this — failing the student, the planet, the animals, the water, our elderly, ourselves – and putting a clever label on it.
I come back to the Gibran quote that I read every day during my dad’s cancer. The daily wonder, the yin/yang dance of joy and sorry. Nurture your wonder every bit as much as you watch your diet or exercise or do your monthly finances. Maintain wonder and you’ll spread it to those around you. “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson.