Wonders

  1. It’s no wonder that I can remember only two or three of the Seven Wonders of the World. Ancient world, that is. I remember sitting in my basement bedroom, at the massive big wooden table that grandpa had built for some use in the frontier hotel he once ran, now serving as my writing and dreaming desk, and leafing through one University catalogue after another, searching for places where I could goof off, write disjointed creative pieces instead of research papers and, at all costs, avoid mandatory second languages and mandatory classics / history courses. I found one. There, I ‘earned’ (my engineer brothers would insist on the qualifying punctuation) a degree by writing poems about drinking beer all night and staggering down blackout back alleys. Now, someone asks me if I know the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Pfffht. At the moment I am exploring a Spanish colonial town in Mexico, trying to understand overlays of Classical and Gothic forms on a 16th century cathedral, and in my spare time taking Spanish lessons. Irony lives.
  2. I wonder how we humans co-exist at all. Open up a Wikipedia page on the Seven Wonders and soon we are branching off to ancient wonders, medieval wonders, modern wonders, engineering wonders and natural wonders. Someone wants the Hoover Dam included, someone else wants the Internet. The Internet: simultaneously one of our most brilliant and most frightening creations. Brilliant for all those distance-smashing and network-creating reasons we know but downright scary for how it exposes the dark and tangled webs of thought inside the billions and billions of brains bouncing around this planet. Nothing is simple, nothing is guaranteed truth, nothing is pure. Because for every attempt there are 459 contrary misspelled and wacked-out postings by entities known as billy420, mensaman, rnny162, and aka_kv . If, perchance, one were trying to turn this massive texting and Twittering mob around and, shall we just say, do something like save the species from extinction, the Internet tells one that a good place to start might be with a mass cull.
  3. A girl is born in Addis Ababa, child of missionaries, and grows up in a series of boarding schools, grows wary of adults and authority and those who would define and control the spirit. She finds no comfort in her parents’ faith, seeks knowledge without systems of constraint, attaches her self to horses and rides, rides whenever she can. At 17 she makes her break, bolting to North America, to big lonely cities and their universities. She is a wary of the ways of those who would control – control her, control animals, control people who don’t have her strengths, people with disabilities and wonderous riches we ignore. It is a quite a wonder, years later, across the continent, that I am there at some sort of crossroads where she has arrived, and that she is open to the possibility of me, of something more. The idea of us.
  4. How much there is to learn, so close at hand. In the Sears boys’ clothing department we are not finding what we are looking for, my ten year old stepson Darren and I. There are three or four customers but no clerks in sight. I am ready to pack it in when the phone rings at the sales desk. No clerk. Darren strides over, answers the phone, engages the person on the other end in a pleasant but assertive conversation, suggests that they send a staffer over to boys’ clothing. Moments later, we have assistance. Now how did he learn that? How did I not learn that? It’s a wonder how we interact with what we are given. Like the Christmas we lamented our kids’ thorough lack of interest in coming home for the family tradition of stringing the tree with lights, hanging all the precious shiny ornaments collected over a couple generations, untangling and rehanging the silver tinsel from years past. So we glumly proceeded without them, the kids that is, joined only by our adopted family friend Byron, a mentally disabled and largely blind man about ten years younger than us. A few minutes into a very mechanic ‘let’s get this chore done’ tree decorating, Byron was on his knees, ever so gently touching a dangling glass ball and squinting. Then he took a clump of tinsel and tossed it gingerly on a branch. Then he clapped and laughed. And we clapped and laughed. We had learned something about delight and about special occasions.
  5. They call it the ultimate driving machine and, sure, that’s just a marketing tag line. But if there weren’t something wonderfully “ultimate” about a BMW, I and all the others who crave and drive them wouldn’t. I had scouted them for years and finally, with online searches and multiple phone calls, closed a deal on a sweet little 330XI located, providentially, out on the coast in Vancouver. Which would necessitate a two-day drive home through the Rockies. This, I needed to share, so I flew out with my adult son Eric. At age 12 Eric went to live with his mother and in the years since we have to seek out the touchpoints. Sports is one. A road trip sounds good for another. At the end of the drive, we are cruising down main street in the tourist town where he lives, sun roof open, windows down, the lake shimmering in front of us. Rolling slowly, Eric driving, enjoying the moment. On the sidewalk, a couple young guys walking toward us, noticing the Beemer, admiring. One of them calls out, “Cool wheels.” “Thanks man,” Eric answers. He’s proud, he’s cool. In a tumble of generations and yearnings I remember my own father’s years away, his brief returns to drive me around the block in the used cars he sold. Today’s moment is all about success, admiration, easy luxury and a finely crafted German driving machine – like a car ad, only real. The connections are strong and the desire to replay is, forever, there.
  6. Where do abilities come from? Where does internal resolve come from? Where do we get the desire to create something of value from life, to add something to the givens? I wonder this with every phone call, every Facebook posting or photo, from my daughter Kate. I worried, when she was small, she was so shy. Too much like me, too easily wounded by the hard edges of the world. So many photos of her as a toddler, peering cautiously out from behind her bangs. Then her mother and I split, I move her a handful of times while getting myself re-oriented, I remarry and she inherits a stepmom and stepbrother, she’s off to couple different schools and over time, lo and behold, she travels with a flock of friends, has a social calendar I can’t keep up with, sends me precious thoughtful emails from a hillside overlooking Florence, gathers more friends around her and simply flourishes. Art, a job, a home of her own, photography, trips, and people in her life such as I could never imagine, never dream. All that from somewhere inside her; all that beyond me. Her life fills me with wonder.
  7. These wonderful lists: how they enable us to pretend to contain the world. How they charm us with the comfortable illusion that any list, any thing, is finite.