Learning to look, and to be awed

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times about the experience of awe and how that experience leads us to be more compassionate to others. I had never actually connected those two events before but it makes perfect sense.

When I am in a moment of capturing how awesome something is, I tend to feel happier, and when I am happy I am usually more generous. It’s as if I want to pass along the delight I have felt, share the goodness that somehow showed up along my path.

The article went on to say that according to the research that was done regarding this subject of being awed, there seemed to be less experiences of such an event reported than in prior years. It appears as if Americans have lost our ability to be awed.

I am not surprised by the conclusions. In my own life, I find being awed is often dismissed or even easily lost when I am overwhelmed with the day-to-day stresses, when I am frustrated or when I am simply overworked.

Who has time for awe when the bills are due, and the doctor wants to run another test, and we’re caring for aging parents, and everybody seems to want something from us? Who can notice that which is delightfully surprising in nature or even in humankind when there is so much to be worried about or focused on? If we keep our nose to the grindstone, how can we ever actually be moved by that which is awesome or beautiful?

I knew a man once who lived to be 100. He was aged and frail when I met him, had lost almost all of his hearing and much of his eyesight. He had battled depression for some time as a young man, but even with his past and present struggles, I experienced him to be quite taken with beauty.

When I commented about this to his wife, she told me that he had always been that way. She explained that he had always pointed out sunsets and flowers blooming as they walked together or even as they drove down some road. “Would you look at that?” he would say. “And isn’t that something?”

“The funny thing,” his wife mused, “it would be the same flower we saw the day before and the sunset wasn’t really any more stunning than it had been the last time we were out during an evening.” She smiled. “He’s just always had a way of spotting beauty.”

The truth is I’d like to be like that. I’d like to find myself falling in love with the same flower every day or being dumbstruck by the colors in the sky. I’d like to think of myself as easily awed and as generous. Perhaps if I quit focusing on the wrong things I might find reason to be awed too. I might even give a little more. And who knows? I might just live to be 100.

Lynne Hinton is a minister and author: