Children’s Wonder

Last week I had a most pleasant earworm, the Hollies He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. I’ve written about this song before, and the important thing for the sake of this post is that when I was eight years old, I was obsessed with this song and played the 45 over and over on my little plastic record player. I still revere the Hollies and that song, though to be honest, He Ain’t Heavy is the kind of schmaltzy song (all those strings) that would make me cringe as an adult.

So, with that song playing in the background of my head, I started thinking about an email exchange I had with playwright and friend of A Life’s Work, John Yearley about a film that floored him, Ashes & Diamonds. The film is great, make no mistake, but I wasn’t as moved as John was. It made me think of a John Landis quote, “Everything about a movie … is who you are and where you are when you saw it.”

Who was I when I was obsessed with that Hollies song? I remember the thing that struck me about it was “my broth-er-errrr.” Lyrics rarely initially lured, melody and rhythm grabbed me first, then the lyrics (this is still the case). But I remember feeling this deep deep love for my older brother while listening to that song, and though I couldn’t articulate it at the time, I believe I had an epiphany centered around the idea of “brother.”

Soon after connecting these two dots, I came across this interview with Jill Tarter.

Here’s the text:

Jill Tarter with her father.

As a child, astronomer Jill Tarter would walk along the beaches of western Florida with her father and look up at the stars.

“I assumed, at that time, that along some beach on some planet, there would be a small creature walking with its dad and they would see our sun in their sky, and they might wonder whether anyone was there,” she tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies. “But I never thought about it professionally until graduate school.”

I’m probably extrapolating more than I should, but what I find really fascinating about this is that in both cases, the epiphanies involve a realization that there is something beyond one’s self. But with Tarter’s it’s a bit more than that. She was wondering about a doppleganger. On another planet. Orbiting another sun. Wondering about the existence of her!

As mindblowing as this is I don’t think it’s uncommon. I think many children think such things. But not many keep that wonder burning into adulthood.

I’m fascinated by the moments of wonder we experience, big and small, as children and as adults, and how those moments can lead to life decisions. Or a life’s work.

Would you care to share yours? I’d love to hear about it.

4 Replies to “Children’s Wonder”

  1. So much of who we are gets formed in those years we call “coming of age”. It’s kind of scary. But nothing outside ourselves can imprint on who we are inside as adults the way things did when we were 12 (or whatever). I saw Star Wars when I was 12. I discovered Dungeons and Dragons, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Star Trek and The Twilight Zone and everything else that is still totally awesome to this very day. But I also used to lay awake in my bed at night and watch the wind blow the branches of the tree outside my window and wished I was out there exploring, lurking in the shadows, and leaping hedges, feral and free. I’m an artist, 48 years old, and only started painting night scenes in my work about 8 years ago. Until just now I never really made that obvious connection so clearly or consciously. Thank you Mr. Licata.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Mr. Lewis. I didn’t know that the night scenes were that recent. I’m not sure why I’m surprised by this–maybe because they are so exquisite, I believe you must have been painting that light for at least 100 years.

      But it is amazing how these things are latent in us, how despite the “holy guacamole” moments that hit us square in the face when we area 8 or 12 or 21, the turning of those moments into something else (a career, a painting, a film) might occur many years later.

      It’s interesting about Star Wars: I saw it when I was 16. I remember being really blown away by it, especially that cruiser going across the top of the screen FOREVER, that was like nothing I had ever seen. But it didn’t instill a fervor for SF or all things Star Wars. I saw the first two sequels when they came out (and liked them, except for the ending with the Ewoks) and numerous times after that, but I was too old to jump into it head first. No action figures or anything like that. People who are a few years younger than me always seemed WAY more into it than I was.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful comment, David.


  2. I don’t think you are extrapolating too much at all. I think music is the most concrete example of it. They say nothing will every hit you in the way the music you loved in your teens and early 20s did. I fond that to be true for almost everyone I know.

    1. This is true, and I wonder why that’s so? It almost seems neurological. Like certain of our receptors are primed at that age more than when we are older. I can’t believe it’s because we associate the music with “the best years of our lives.” Don’t get me wrong, my 20s were pretty good, but not the best years of my life. (My teens were definitely NOT the best years of my life.) And yet the music from that period (and the stuff I heard as a child because I had older brothers) moves me the most.

      Oliver Sacks, can you get back to me on this?

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