Atlas Obscura today has a piece on awe. I got me to thinking about how many times in my life I’ve felt what is described as awe. Yes, I know that these days we trot out “awesome” to describe something even marginally good. Incidentally, I am not a fan of telling kids that everything they make, say, or do is “Awesome!” They’re going to get swelled heads and think they can do no wrong. Wrong.
The piece asks: “Think about awe, about a time you felt it. Consider how you'd describe that experience to another person. Now, how would you show how you felt without words?”
I was probably awed by many things when I was a child, but I don’t remember them. I was flabbergasted when I saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot on live TV. I am speechless when I contemplate the cosmos - pictures like the ones here are amazing. But there are only two times in my adult life that I was what I think of as awed. I can still summon a bit of the awe I felt on these occasions.
First when I saw a white-tailed deer in the Pennsylvania woods. Other than birds and squirrels in the park and animals in the zoo, I’d never seen a wild animal in its own habitat. My husband said I just stared, open-mouthed. Then I cried, it was so beautiful. I’ve seen sixty-two bazillion deer since then, our property in upstate New York had wildlife galore, from chipmunks to bears, but I’ll never forget that deer that day.
Second was during our visit to the Santa Croce in Florence. This is from a previous blog of mine: “Never in my whole life have I been awed as I was there, especially at the first tomb, that of Michelangelo. It’s not that I didn’t believe that these men really lived, but whew, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo! Most awe-inspiring was the tomb of Michelangelo. I can’t explain why, but I just stood and stared at it for quite some time, having a surprising sense of being in the presence of greatness. That sense of something special, all in my head and imagination as it may have been, has stayed with me. I hear or see a reference to Florence or the Santa Croce and the feeling is there again.”
In reading the whole Atlas Obscura piece, I’m not too sure if what I call awe is what they call awe. If it is anything else than what I call awe, I’ve never been awed. But by my definition, I have. I just thought I’d let you know that.