Wonder: It’s essential place in our hearts
There was a time when I had this memorized,
the words represented truth to my 20 something atheist’s heart, immersed and lost in the sea of the thoughts of others.
Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an æsthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder…
Only the italics are mine-
the words are F. Scott Fitzgerald’s on the last page of his novel, The Great Gatsby. There are 3 more paragraphs and a last sentence which continues to be dissected by critics as they opine about Fitzgerald’s meaning. But it was this sentence: “face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder..” that stayed in my heart and ended the book in my memory.
I was surprised when I re-read that last page a few years ago and discovered that there were 3 more paragraphs following the one I had committed to memory. And, I will confess, a but disappointed because I thought Fitzgerald should have ended it there.
With ease I can return to the young girl I once was,
hungry to learn from those believed to have the answers; to have asked all of the questions that swarmed in my mind. The yearning for truth and wisdom beckoning I never doubted that they lay dormant within some professor or author or advanced degree…or maybe even in a sacred place somewhere.
As I re-read the words many years later, again I am drawn by the lyrical, lush-almost profligate beauty of Fitzgerald’s prose but profoundly aware of the despair implicit in his words.
And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Webster defines wonder as
…” the uncorrupted sense of awe, delight, surprise, astonishment…something completely and totally inspired by something other, outside self, worthy of adoration. This is where faith begins, I think; it’s absence where faith begins to die. I cannot help but speculate about the loss of what Webster calls ‘an uncorrupted sense of awe…worthy of adoration.’ When do we lose the capacity and why?
For many of us, perhaps most, the erosion is slow and inexorable. Maybe a parent incapable of bearing the responsibility of raising a child or a priest or minister who disappoints even harms. We ‘grow up’, accepting cynicism and the stuff of childhood like superstition and miracles behind. Leaving in its stead the shattering despair expressed by Fitzgerald about Gatsby and our world.
But consider the wonder of those wise men…
Soon, we will celebrate Epiphany. About the universality and timelessness expressed by this journey of three men from the east. Educated, wealthy, and wise. Sufficiently wise enough to recognize a sign, a supernatural sign, understand albeit only in a most rudimentary way. Perhaps one or two had explained why they planned to leave to follow this star. This star, pregnant with portent. We can readily imagine the reaction of friends and wives. Certainly confusion, perhaps ridicule, even anger. But unexpressed was the fear. What if this is real? Always there is a journey, always a risk, frequently our loved ones cannot understand when the wonder eclipses the risk.
And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.…