Wow Moments

Lucas thinks wowSome words are so overused that they no longer have any real meaning; they are mere driftwood in the conversational stream.  Hell is one of those words.  It gets tossed off in phrases like “hot as hell”, “cold as hell”, “boring as hell”, “crazy as hell”, “noisy as hell”, “quiet as hell”.  It stands to reason that however unpleasant the official Hell may be, it can’t be all of those things.  Users of those metaphors are just being lazy as hell.

Another word that is losing its value is “wow”.  It doesn’t have a linguistic pedigree, but wow has been, until recently, a useful exclamation.  It now sometimes conveys disgust at reckless driving, or scorn for someone’s bad taste in clothing, but it once had only positive connotations.  Wow was used to express surprise, delight, excitement, great pleasure.  It was a way of saying, “this is so thrilling, words fail me.”  It was — and still can be — the spontaneous response to a transcendent experience; what I call a wow moment.

Babies have wow moments all the time.  Since everything is new to them, they are constantly surprised:  “My arms and legs move!  Wow!”  “That thing is shiny!  Wow!”  “That giant seems to be talking to me!  Wow!”  (see photo)

As we grow, the number of wow moments diminishes somewhat, but there are still plenty of them.  Learning to walk, riding a bike, catching a ball, reading a book (and getting it!) — those are among the experiences that are inexpressibly gratifying.  Puberty supplies some exciting occasions (that you don’t need me to describe), but by the time we reach adulthood we seem much less likely to have genuine wow moments.

Maybe that’s because we aren’t as easily surprised; the accumulation of life experiences has left us a bit jaded.  Maybe irritation and disappointment and general weariness have impaired our wow receptors.  But there’s something in the way we’re wired that needs more than same-ol’-same-ol’; we want to be inspired to an extent that we are rendered temporarily speechless.  And those wow moments are still out there, waiting for us to notice them.

So just to jog your memory of the ones that you have had, let me list a few of mine:

•  Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset

•  Watching an athlete effortlessly do something that seems impossible

•  Hearing a choir sing the Sanctus from Franz Schubert’s German Mass

•  Tasting a glass of excellent Pinot Noir

•  Reading a perfectly-crafted sentence in a novel

•  Entering the Sistine Chapel and looking up at Michelangelo’s ceiling

•  Overhearing children belly laughing

•  Smelling warm banana bread, fresh from the oven

•  Regaining consciousness after a medical emergency and realizing I’m still alive

And you?  I’d like to hear about a wow moment you’ve had; please post it in Comments.

8 responses to “Wow Moments

  1. Can’t pass up this one!

    Had one Wow moment with the grandmother in your photo, while at Badger Pass, perched on the rim of Yosemite Valley in winter.

    Watching my diabetic daughter swim at CIF finals.

    The majestic sweep of view from the top of Chair 5 at Mammoth, made more “wow” by skiing fast.

    Many performance Wows: Springsteen at Meadowlands in 2003, Jackson Browne at the Roxy in 1972, James Earl Jones in Fences on Broadway, Immaculate Heart High School’s no-money, no-theater performance of the Wizard of Oz last fall.

    A train ride through the Alps in 1983 was one Wow moment after another. Will never forget it.

    Watching 100 teenagers erupt into the Jai Ho dance (from Slumdog Millionaire) at the end of Emily’s theater camp in August. “Wow” and “Joy” wrapped up in one!

  2. Those are great, Colleen. There are some people who seem to miss a lot in life, but you are definitely NOT one of those people!

  3. Thanks, Tom. Superb food for thought.

    I so have to agree with your assessment of experiencing the Grand Canyon at sunset: that first moment simply takes one’s breath away.

  4. This exercise makes me feel so grateful for my life!

    Watching millions of sleeping butterflies at a sanctuary in Mexico feel the sun’s first rays hit their wings, wake up, and fly all around us

    Sunrise at Haleakala, Maui

    Standing in the Waipi’o Valley on the Big Island and having wild horses gallop by me out of the blue

    Swimming with dolphins and pilot whales in Hawaii

    Catching a cabbage thrown from a float during a St. Patrick’s Day parade in New Orleans

    Gazing up at the stars at a backcountry campsite in Mt. Rainier National Park and watching the moon rise, “set” behind a peak, and rise again

    Dancing in a circle in Antigua, Guatemala with local Spanish teachers at a Christmas party

    Russell Martin’s heroic homerun to win a Dodger game when my family was in the stadium

    Slowly rafting down the Colorado River in the middle of nowhere for a floating bluegrass concert – the musicians were on a giant raft in the middle of a few hundred people in various vessels – when suddenly a bald eagle circled us and then buzzed the band and we all let out a group hoot

    Mimicking a marmot’s chirp to warn a baby marmot that an eagle was heading toward it while its parents were grazing elsewhere, and having it hear me, look up at the eagle, and retreat for cover

    Seeing my first book on a shelf in a bookstore for the first time

    Meeting my 9-day-old nephew Lucas for the first time

    Sailing on Lake Dillon with my beloved parents, husband and grandfather and having a feeling of peace wash over me

  5. Outstanding, Jen. Just reading your comment made me say “Wow”.

  6. Watching the sun come up in a quiet cove, sipping a good java in the cockpit, anywhere in the world where I may most fortunately be spending the morning with family.

  7. Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon the morning after a wow sunset and seeing what an all-night snowstorm had accomplished.

    Coming upon an abalone the size (well nearly) of a garbage-can lid while diving at San Miguel Island. (Followed by another word when it turned out to be an empty shell.)

    And the most important wow: Seeing Doris for the first time around 70 years ago.

  8. A few of mine….

    Observing the wildebeest migration in Africa, wholly engrossed by the sight and the sounds. Realizing that I am the size of a grain of sand in the grand scheme of the universe.

    Standing in the center of a Maasai celebration in the middle of nowhere in Tanzania. COMPLETE darkness. Away from all technology, electricity and convenience, comforted only by the rhythmic trance of the women singing all around me.

    Tom, keep up these amazing entries. Love reading!

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