When most people think about the future, they dream up ways they might live happier lives. But notice this phenomenon. When people remember the crucial events that formed them, they don’t usually talk about happiness. It is usually the ordeals that seem most significant. Most people shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering…When [suffering] is not connected to some larger purpose beyond itself, suffering shrinks or annihilates people. When it is not understood as a piece of a larger process, it leads to doubt, nihilism, and despair. –From David Brooks’ The Road to Character
This weekend I tried to go back to the wonder. When we’re small we believe in the infinite–we incant the word forever like sermon, like song, and we truly believe, as Edna St. Vincent Millay once wrote, that childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies. Remember that bike you rode with unsteady hands and how you drove it into a tree? You don’t remember the ride, you remember the fall–the sting of torn skin which will a scab you persistently pick, a wound that takes forever to heal. Remember that rain in August? How it came down like a victory and washed the streets clean and you got caught up in it, felt chilled to the bone amidst all the heat. You never conceived of being cold in August.
As you grow older you realize that your life is composed of a collection of firsts. Your world is complete and beautiful; you believe in fairies, magic, and old men who fly down chimneys. You stare up at the sky and wonder how planes can be suspended in midair, and in that moment you can’t fathom that one day you’ll be in a flying machine buoyed up by mathematics, science, and sky. You think people in China, India and Canada and wonder if they can see that plane too. For a time you are told that the ground is safe–it’s the one thing that doesn’t move–until you are in a place where the earth rumbles and shifts below your feet. A man points to a hole in the ground and says in a thousand years time this barren land will be filled with water–too bad we won’t be around to see it, haha!–and it occurs to you that there will be a great many things you won’t see, firsts for the unborn.
We are nothing but a clock inching us forever forward.
And then there comes a time when forever feels like a silly word to use because you’ve seen people lying in caskets, and how could forever exist when the people you love leave and never come back? You hear whispers of drunk men being paid $5/hr to don a red suit and bounce kids on their knees. Late one night you slip downstairs and see people you know pile presents under a tree. You feel a hand slide under a pillow leaving a quarter for a tooth. And then you begin to see that magic is about commerce and the moment we are born we grow to inevitably rot.
There go the adults storming the kingdom and bringing it to ruin. As time passes, knowledge, memory, and experience chip away at the wonder. And we absolve to preserve our children in the kingdom for as long as we possibly can, but we’re adults and we can’t help ourselves and the children become repeats of us with minor variations.
A man wakes at his desk and thinks: This is my life? All of it?
I have been happy. Is that success? –Advice on careers, finance, and life from Harvard Business School’s Class of 1963
I watch a movie where two grieving sisters come to believe that their dead mother will return. She said to wait, hold tight. But who’s going to record our heartbeat before God? I watch another movie where a pragmatist, a cynic, becomes undone when he sees what science and logic cannot prove. I read a book about character, which reaffirms what I already know–character is shaped and formed largely through how we breathe through and manage experience. How we breathe through the dark spaces and dig our way out of the darkness. Character becomes the hands that do the digging, and then the spaces between light and dark. Character becomes the breath between the tick of a metronome, how we manage the off-beat, the breath before the jump.
I’m thinking about wonder lately because I’m an adult who believes in the rational and pragmatic. I’m an adult who no longer believes in a god although so many people desperately want me to. Yet, I’m an adult who’s just realized that I haven’t had all my firsts. There are firsts left to be had! There are trees to crash into, knees to scalp and skin. There will be a new zip code that I will write on envelopes. There will be two hands that will clutch a wheel and propel a machine forward. There will be the heartache and break of farewell, the I will see you sometime soon. There is so much that is unknown and frightening and I know that I will be different somehow, once I emerge from the other side. Once I set foot into a new home thousands of miles away from what is safe, familiar.
There is a wonder that is not quite science and not quite god, but something beautiful that exists between the two.
Part of this has made want to turn inward, not share as much. It’s made me want to experience more. I’m finding that the more I talk about my move the more I allow people to ruin it with their constant questions and advice. The more I seek out wonder the more I feel subsumed by the noise of pragmatism. So I’ll be holding my hand close and you’ll know where I’ve landed when I’m there because right now I need to experience this first without having adults intrude.
I need the wonder.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
4 cups of rolled gluten-free oats
1 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
2 1/2 cups dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
1/3 cup chopped dried figs
1 cup unsweetened dried cherries (or blueberries)
Pre-heat oven to 300F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Add the pumpkin + sunflower seeds to a medium bowl, cover it with water, swish the seeds around and drain it using a strainer over a running tap. Set the nuts aside.
In a large bowl (and I’m talking LARGE), toss the oats, pistachios, coconut flakes and cinnamon until combined. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat the syrups + salt until they bubble slightly. Remove from the heat, stir in the olive oil and vanilla extract, and set aside. Stir the drained seeds into the oat and nut mixture. Pour in the olive oil mixture and stir everything until completely combined.
Divide the granola between two baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, toss the granola, rotate the trays and bake for another 15 minutes. Then, toss the granola again and bake for another 10 minutes until the granola is brown.
Add the hot granola to a large bowl and toss in the dried fruit. Allow the mixture to cool completely before storing it in airtight containers.