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21 July 2005

Say WOW when you see a bus

“As once the wingéd energy of delight / carried you over childhood’s dark abysses, now beyond your own life build the great arch / of unimagined bridges.” –Rainer Maria Rilke

BusThere is a pure and shining glory in the world of my 2-year-old daughter, Tess. It is called a bus, a “big, big bus,” to be exact.

There is absolutely no greater joy, no surprise more full, no moment so fantastic as that sheer moment of ecstasy and full body wonder when Tess sees a bus. Like someone with short-term memory loss, each one is her first: “WOW!!! A BUS!!!” she says with every fiber of her being. “A BIG, BIG BUS!” she further elucidates. To be so small, she has quite the lung power, a voice that carries for quite some distance, making heads turn in her wake.


There is a close second to Bus Joy when we approach the “TUNNEL, the big, big TUNNEL!” but even that pales in comparison to the bus. Then, of course, there is the penultimate thrill of the TRUCK, THE BIG, BIG, TRUCK or THE BIG RED FIRETRUCK or the ICE CREAM TRUCK or HAPPY TRUCK or BIG HUGE TRUCK, a very loud announcement made many times each day and complicated only slightly by the fact that every “tr” in her noisy vocabulary is rendered as an “f”. You do the math. We cut quite a figure in the produce aisle of the local Ingles or Post Office when she hears a “great big fire truck” go past, announcing it to the surprised masses.

Being around someone who is 36 inches tall is a Ph.D. in exuberance, full and unmeasured, joy without bound, face and eyes lit up with amazement and pure, pure joy. It is a joy we all know - before we divide ourselves and wall off the part we keep to ourselves, the part we hide for fear of ridicule.

In his lyrical book, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, Parker Palmer writes with compassionate intelligence about our divided lives. “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the ‘integrity that comes from being what you are.’”

“I yearn to be whole,” Palmer continues, “but dividedness often seems the easier choice. A ‘still, small voice’ speaks the truth about me, my work, or the world. I hear it and yet act as if I did not. I withhold a personal gift that might serve a good end or commit myself to a project that I do not really believe in. I keep silent on an issue I should address or actively break faith with one of my own convictions. I deny my inner darkness, giving it more power over me...”

We are told from an early age, he writes, “that ‘masked and armored’ is the safe and sane way to live”—“hold your cards close to your vest,” “don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.” I read once about a man who went into a kindergarten class and asked how many of the kids could sing – every hand shot up immediately. How many could dance? Same response. How many could paint? Again, all hands shot up eagerly. He then went into a college classroom and asked the very same questions. Did he get the same response? No. The students were reticent to respond, no hands went up. What happens in those years between 5 and 18 to our sense of joy and possibility and personal command of the universe?

We learn to mask ourselves, our surprise and our glee, our sense of self-worth and self-loathing: Don’t say you can paint because someone else might paint better than you do and people will judge. Don’t say you can sing because you’re not the inexplicable Britney Spears. Don’t say, with the exuberance of a child, that you can write—because you’re not on the NY Times best seller list. Don’t express your sheer wonder at the sight of a bus because that would mark you as unsophisticated and naïve.

As I remarked in reaction to a recent post by Johnnie Moore, we don’t allow ourselves to be surprised or wowed as adults, not often. I'd venture to say that the unwillingness and/or inability to be surprised (if I am surprised, I'm weak; if I'm surprised, I'm not ready, I'm inadequately prepared; if I'm surprised, I'm vulnerable and not strong, ad infinitum) in the context of politics, school, business, life itself, is exactly the problem - that we equate being surprised with being unprepared and naive.

Therefore, I can't be surprised, I won't let myself be surprised, I will do whatever it takes to not be surprised, not to let other people know I have noticed the big, big bus and am absolutely and totally floored by the very idea of it. I will not move my head or indicate in any way that I am in absolute love with that bus, that seeing it makes me want to shake all over and scream out at the top of my lungs.

“How interesting,” remarked Tom Guarriello in the same thread of online dialogue. “The first reference for the origin of ‘surprise’ is ‘unexpected attack or capture.’ Not something us modern males are interested in, eh? No wonder the maxim of American management is: ‘above all, no surprises.’ But, without surprises, how can there be wonder, meaning, ‘marvelous thing, marvel, the object of astonishment’?

Yes, that’s it—it’s a food chain of astonishment and glee: We must be surprised by the bus in order to experience wonder in order to feel as one person, not that divided and partitioned and hidden and divided self that Parker Palmer describes.

Story_musgraveI’ve had the pleasure of hearing Story Musgrave speak several times about his experiences as an astronaut, showing photographs he took of Earth from space, those whirling eddies of clouds and sea currents and sand dunes, a lesson in perspective and patterns. He begins and ends his presentation with a slide of a small child on a beach, bent completely double on her haunches (ah, the flexible tendons of youth) as she peers intently at some small thing she has found on the sand, perhaps a shell or seaweed or just the bubbles of salt water. It is that sense of mystery and wonder and intense focus and fascination that we lose as we age and that we need to recover, reclaim, own, cherish, and share.

Firetruck1_1As I push Tess in her swing (“BIGGER, BIGGER!” she urges, an adrenalin junkie at two) I muse sometimes about what it would be like to approach life as an adult like Tessie marches face forward into her days: “Wow! A meeting! Lookie, an insanely long and completely inane meeting! YEE! A huge parking ticket! A 200-page strategic plan! YIPPEE! A report due tomorrow! A mortgage payment! Wow, Wow!! Another dysfunctional boss in a big, big FIRE TRUCK!”

~*~ 37 Days: Do it Now Challenge ~*~

Indulge me: Just for one week, this week, just seven days, say this OUT LOUD every time you see a bus: “WOW!!! A BUS!!!” Give voice to that inner child of astonishment and surprise and sheer, sheer joy. Just do it for one week, realizing as Parker Palmer writes, that the bus represents the way we are ”commuting daily between the public world of role and the hidden world of soul.”

Max DuPree talks about a "beneficial search for surprise" which is a phrase I quite like. Let’s all agree to go on one of those scavenger hunts together and be willing to be surprised by the bus, the fire truck, the shell on the beach, the life.



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That has started my day with a great jolt, Thank you!

you really made me laugh right out loud with that one! thank you!

Last night my partner and I watched My Neighbour Totoro, by Hiyao Miyazaki; it is full of wonder, childs delight...and there is a very WOW bus! I laughed and laughed and there I was in that place of long ago, a child again and also 41, full of longing for more of that magic and wonder...thank you for your post, another gem.

Thanks for your note! I've read a lot about Miyazaki's work recently because of his new movie, "Howl's Moving Castle," and will definitely put "My Neighbour Totoro" on my Netflix queue after reading your message!


If i had 37 days or years i'd read Sam Keen and your blog ;^)

“We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly”
-Sam Keen

Thanks much for your blog. i take comfort in your words.

Celeste - little did you know how important your mention of Sam Keen is to me, having found his work in my first year in college..."To a Dancing God" was my first Sam Keen experience (his peach-seed monkey story, in particular), so you couldn't have put me in better company. What a wonderful, humbling, generous thing to say - thank you!

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