This morning, I took my daughter on the bus to school. She’s six. The whole journey was a source of amazement for her. Every detail had something wonderful to consider – how many different buses come to our street, where they go, how the driver knows what route to take, how people decide where to get on and off, how the payment system works, what happens when a bus breaks down, how you can find out which bus you should choose to get where you want to go. On and on our conversation went, leaping from one topic to another.
She was still talking about it at the end of the day.
How glorious to be able to look at the world this way, to see in what most of us consider humdrum and prosaic the sheer extraordinariness of everything.
If your background mood is cynicism, you might already find yourself objecting to what I’m saying here. “Yes,” you’ll argue “that’s very nice. But we can’t all drop our adult responsibilities and look at the world as a six-year old might.”
So then, look with wonder through adult eyes. You could start just by noticing what it takes for a bus to arrive at the end of your street.
Somebody had to discover how to extract metals from ore, to melt them and shape them, to harden them against rust. Others had to discover how to spin yarn, weave fabrics, make rubber, plastic, and then make useful objects and forms from them. We had to discover oil, and ways of transforming its latent energy into movement, and all the technology that goes into the internal combustion engine. And for this we needed the disciplines of physics and chemistry, the mathematics and experimental method upon which they stand, and the language required to speak and think and invent anything at all. We needed to invent factories, means of mass production, and the social and political arrangements that would make it possible for people to work in them. We needed means of distribution for the fuel – tankers and pipelines and storage and pumps. The entire interlocking systems of money and economy that liberated us from having to produce our own personal food, and the agricultural technology that could free up vast numbers of us to work in other fields. We needed to invent systems and rules for driving, and ways to teach them to other people, the roads to drive on (and all the technology and materials that make them up), and the social norms that allow us to behave on buses in ways that make them usable.
Everything in the human world depends upon these incomprehensibly vast networks of interlocking materials, tools, language and practices in which everything relies on everything else. That our evolution has made this possible, and that we find ourselves able to recognise and navigate such a complex world, should be an invitation to wonder again and again at the sheer unlikeliness of what we call the ordinary and the everyday. And this is in addition to whatever wonder we might have that life and all that comes with it is possible at all.
To cultivate wonder is to cultivate gratitude: one of the most spacious and life-giving of moods. It’s a necessary alternative to living in a way that cultivates the smaller, more imprisoning and much more destructive moods of resentment and cynicism.
Most of us have forgotten all this.
It must be time to start to remember.