Wonder: (The world through the bottom of a milk glass)

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Wonderful.

We take it to mean good, excellent, fantastic. Someone says that they’ve “had a wonderful day,” and we take it to mean that they had an incredible, happy, encouraging day in which their plans were accomplished and their lives were improved.

But break it down.

Wonderful. Wonder/ful… wonder… full… full of wonder. So, when I have had a wonderful day, it really ought to  mean that I have had a day in which I have experienced much wonder. A wonderful day is a day in which something amazing has caught my eye, and I have stopped in  my tracks just to stare at it in absolute awe.

Wonder is seeing…

A huge flock of birds, only black specks from a distance, performing skilled maneuvers through the air, into the trees, onto the power lines, and back again, all in unison.

The color green.

A freckled child’s impish grin.

A cloudy night sky with only one visible star, breathed upon by a chilly evening wind.

A Japanese magnolia tree absolutely bursting with huge pink flowers.

A young man standing tiptoe on a sidewalk, painting swirling designs on the side of an old brick carwash.

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But to be in awe of something isn’t the only meaning of “wonder.” “Wonder” is also a verb. “To wonder” is to consider, ponder, and think through something. It is to speculate, to be curious, and even, in some cases, to doubt.

Suddenly, a wonderful day becomes a day full of wondering.

A wonderful day is also full of…

Looking the homeless man on the streetcorner in the eye, holding his gaze, and acutely feeling his pain.

Working a double shift at work, feeling like you’re caught in a vortex where there is no world outside of those yellow walls and fry-oil-smells, and realizing that you will walk out those doors at the end of the day with your heart and soul alive and intact.

Reconciling yourself to the fact that, though your heart may deeply ache and do its best to hold on, it is finally time to let go of the someone or something that you have been carrying for too long.

Wonder is doubt. Wonder is awe. A wonderful day is bursting with both.

Wonder is staring at the computer screen late at night, to the backdrop of a huge pastel world map lit by a glowing desk lamp. The house is quiet. A mass of school assignments loom ahead. A glass emptied of chocolate milk–  fuel for said assignments– sits beside the lamp. I look away from the glowing screen, toward the map, seeking to find a world outside of my obligations. The lamplight refracts through the facets of the milk-stained glass. And I wonder… perhaps the world would look different through the bottom of a milk glass.

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I raise the glass, and peer through it. It isn’t a particularly profound view. It doesn’t hold some immediate epiphany or significance. It’s just interesting. I’d never seen things that way before. In its own strange way, it is beautiful. It fills me with wonder– wonder that light can look so interesting and amazing when I try to look at life and the world from a different perspective than before. It was wonder-full. Wonderful.

The world looks absolutely wonderful through the bottom of a milk glass.

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Hey, Tolkien. I Missed You.

chapter 1

Hey, Tolkien. I’ve missed you.

I don’t know why I stopped reading your words. I first heard them read aloud in my family, when I was a child. I loved your stories, characters, and writing. I read The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit multiple times on my own as I grew older; I was a shy little bookworm. I finally saw the movies, and was hooked. I watched them every Christmas break after that, and never stopped enjoying them and gaining new insights and thoughts from the experience. Entering high school, I picked up The Fellowship of the Ring over the summer, determined to make it through the series before school started. But I never made it past Theoden’s courts in The Two Towers. For some reason, I got stuck. Then Life happened. School got busier and busier. I only ever had time to read required literature for school. Reading lost a bit of its magic. I read the great works of literature, and analyzed the crap out of them. But, by that point, great literature held little meaning, few life-impacting lessons, and no magic. So, I forgot the magic of reading, and how vital it impacted my ability to write well, too.

Then, for some reason, even though I still hadn’t laid a finger on The Two Towers, I decided that it would be a good idea to start a blog based completely on the metaphor of stepping outside the Bag End door. I used some quotes from the books, examples from the movies, and general Middle Earth metaphors. But I still didn’t pick up the books again. Apparently I thought that my yearly dosage of the movies would suffice to sustain the metaphor and my inspiration for my Bag-End-based musings.

next chapter

Well, Tolkien, I’m finally back. I missed you, and I forgot how inspiring you are. For no particularly compelling reason, I decided to take the Fellowship of the Ring with me to burn time on a 4-hour plane ride to California three weeks ago. I knew that the first few chapters were a little monotonous, with the prologue, explanation of hobbits, and long description of Bilbo’s party, but I decided to fully commit to my first Tolkien-reading-experience in years. I read every word of the forward, preface, “Concerning Hobbits” intro, and then into the first chapter. It was, indeed, a little monotonous, but I kept reading. By the time Gandalf had returned to give Frodo an account of the Ring, memory was stirring in me. I began to remember why I loved these books so much. And by the time I got to Frodo’s encounter with Farmer Maggot, I was thoroughly enjoying the small sections that I would read each night before bed. I started trying to catch a couple pages, half a chapter, or sometimes a whole chapter whenever I got the chance– the plane ride home, on break at work, and sitting outside on the lawn, looking at the sunset.

chapter 3

Well, Tolkien, I just wanted to say thank you. I’m not tucking your words away on my bookshelf and forgetting about them any more. Life will still be crazy, and will probably do its best to distract me from reading the things that truly bring me joy and inspire me. But, day by day, step by step, I will focus on continuing to read and learn. I’m learning that, in order to become the people we truly want to be, we have to prioritize the things that truly inspire and impact us.

This song lyric has been on my mind a lot recently, in relation to that:

“Well if you can’t get what you love
You learn to love the things you’ve got
If you can’t be what you want
You learn to be the things you’re not
If you can’t get what you need
You learn to need the things that stop you dreaming.” {emphasis mine}

— Passenger, “The Things That Stop You Dreaming”

Too often, the mundane and painful things of life make us chase after “the things that stop our dreaming”– in my case, being so immersed in the stress of school, literary analysis, and English classes that I don’t make time to read books that truly inspire me.

Well, Tolkien, chapter by chapter, book by book, I hope to seek after the things that inspire and continue my dreaming. Besides, coming back to you words may breathe a little life into this struggling blog. Thanks, Tolkien, for helping me become the writer, reader, and human that I want to become. From now on, your words will be close to hand, mind, and heart.

4

Every Human My Teacher

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Last week, I set out on a short journey– needing a deep breath of fresh air, away from the weariness of everyday life. I needed a period of solitude from the voices always surrounding me– good, friendly voices though some be. I needed to hear new voices– the voices of distant family, of the towering redwoods, of the gentle river– and receive strength from them to return home to impending changes.

So I boarded a plane, opening up my ears to listen and my heart to accept whatever new voices would come my way. And, sure enough, the voices came along.

I met a bright, hopeful-hearted young woman. For an hour-long-flight, we conversed about faith. Disillusion by her faith, a little blinded and naive she seemed, speaking as if the world was black and white and questions were easily answered.

I arrived at my destination, and through a bus window watched the disillusioned, desolate, graffiti-pockmarked slums of Oakland, California. This world was definitely not black and white.

But, despite her slight, happy disillusionment, she was still a human. Every human is my teacher. And so I took her words to heart, added them to my journeyman’s satchel, and walked off the plane.

I met a woman whose beauty simply shone from the inside out. 70 years old, but with a beautiful heart and stunning face, framed by long, white hair. We connected at the heart level: my passion is for education and teaching, and she was in the education system for 35 years. She became my teacher. We complained, laughed, agreed, and conversed for almost two hours about teaching, children, growing plants, and creating things.

She told me stories. She gave advice. She rekindled waning embers in me– embers of excitement for pursuing a job in the teaching field. The lady of the white hair breathed inspiration into me. She instilled in me the courage to return home and diligently pursue my future direction. She told me to always stay in the trenches; no matter how high in leadership position I rose, never to forget the difficulties and needs and efforts of the people working at the lowest levels of the system– to “stay in the trenches” with them. She told me that teaching was a high calling. That, if I was meant to teach, I would know it, because I would keep loving it, but that I also must never give up. Former teacher to aspiring teacher, we spoke– and she became my teacher.

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I met a beach-traveller– a tiny Asian woman, sheltered by a straw hat, walking the shores of the turquoise Pacific Ocean, filling plastic bags with driftwood and smooth stones. She edged close to the hissing spray of the waves, but never once let the waters touch her tiny tennis shoes. She watched the children playing nearby, and simply grinned in delight at each cry of laughter and surprise when their  toes would touch the water. She sat nearby me, and we exchanged simple smiles as we both watched my younger siblings enjoying the ocean. I felt compelled to talk to her, but hesitant; after all, what if there was a language barrier between us? But my previous encounters had taught me that good things come from odd risks, so I sat down beside her. After all, what language barrier can prevent the exchange of a smile? And cannot a smile mean more than a thousand words?

Communicating through broken English, we exchanged stories of how we had journeyed there and why, discussed California, and exchanged names. Both of us horribly mispronounced the other’s name, I’m sure, but we gave it our best shot. I waved goodbye to her, tucked her delighted smile into my rock-filled pockets, and left the beach behind me. I treasured her and her smile as my teachers– which taught me to never underestimate the power of reaching beyond words to another human, and opening your heart just a crack to them. Thus the woman of the delighted smile became my teacher.

Every human I encounter is my teacher.

Thus, I will learn to observe people. I will learn to respect every human, listen to every human, ask questions of every human, and learn the identities of every human. We are all gifts to one another– fellow students and teachers, jumbled together in this crazy heap called Life. Let us always live with open eyes, open ears, and open hearts toward our everyday teachers.

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