Usually when I get sucked into YouTube, it’s either high-minded things like TED talks or low-minded things like car crashes and street fights. (I am bifurcated like that.) But this recent discovery has to be my favorite video of all time:
I have watched this again and again in the last week. I sent it to my sister, in part to pay penance for all the times I’ve groaned at her sappy email forwards, and she responded, “Aww, revealing your soft spot for cuteness….”
But it’s not the cuteness that gets me. It’s the little girl’s sense of awe. My heart wells every time she says, “Look at how it goes to us!”, as if she’s seeing the creation of the universe itself in that approaching train. It humbles me, and inspires me, and makes me sad that I feel so little of that wonder in my own life.
In my last post, about how our false sense of self deceives us into thinking that we perceive the world as it is when in fact we perceive only the smallest and most distorted slice of it, I made a pitch for that kind of open amazement. I might have quoted Socrates, who according to Plato said, “philosophy begins in wonder,” but I didn’t, because it’s the kind of line you hear and go, “yeah, sounds good,” and quickly forget, because even if it’s true, its truth feels remote. Why? Because life has already sucked so much of that wonder out of us that it feels theoretical. Living in a state of wonder is like loving your neighbor as yourself—a great idea in theory, and so hard to actually do that it feels practically irrelevant.
I would like to call your attention to the very end of this video—to something I only noticed because I watched it so many times. As Madeline and her dad are getting on the train, suddenly her amazement turns to anxiety. Her brow furrows, and she asks, “Daddy, will it go slower?”
That’s how fast wonder evaporates and self-concern takes its place. Children are as self-concerned as any of us, but they have the great gift of unfamiliarity. Strange new things and places and events are constantly creating space in their lives for wonder, momentarily pushing self-concern to the side. The rest of us rarely have that luxury. We’ve seen it all—trains and everything else that once amazed us—so many times over. That’s why we have to look past appearances, and into depths that are not so readily apparent. Then perhaps, if we’re lucky, we move beyond ourselves, get wide-eyed, and say, “Look at how it goes to us!”