One day recently, while swimming at sunrise, I began thinking about how Oscar Wilde described the dawn as like a ‘frightened girl’ who crept along the ‘long and silent street . . . with silver sandalled feet’. It suddenly struck me as so timid and British (although Wilde was an Irishman, he lived many years in London). In Australia, the dawn is an arsonist who pours petrol along the horizon, throws a match on it and watches it burn.
The sun’s rise and the sun’s retreat bookend our days with awe. We often take awe for granted, and yet it’s something both modern scientists and ancient philosophers have told us to hunt. Awe makes us stop and stare. Being awestruck dwarfs us, humbles us, makes us aware we are part of a universe unfathomably larger than ourselves; it even, social scientists say, makes us kinder and more aware of the needs of the community around us.
Wonder is a similar sensation, and the two feelings are often entwined. Wonder makes us stop and ask questions about the world, while marvelling over something we have not seen before, whether spectacular or mundane.