Some 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.