“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Each week on Thursday and Friday, I take care of my 14-month-old grandson while his mom and dad are at work. On those days our schedule includes, of course, nap time in Mimi’s (that’s me) big bed. It just so happens that my bedroom is where I hang many of the paintings I create in the art class I attend. Most of them are abstracts. I shift them around each week, taking the older ones down and adding the new ones so that I can reflect on them to see what I enjoy about them, what I don’t, and what I might do next time I paint. I’ve hung so many paintings now that some of them are only about three feet off the floor.
Back to my grandson. Every week, he naps in my room, but he has never paid any attention to the paintings. Until last week. When he got up from his nap, he stared at one of the lower paintings and, never taking his eyes off of it, slowly walked to the wall and stretched out his hand toward the painting. The only way I can describe how he looked is “reverence.”
“That’s a painting,” I said. “You can touch it.” And he did. Gently.
“Reverence” is not a word we use often. It comes from the Latin revereri, to fear in the sense of respect. Vereri is where our word “wary” comes from. Vereri moved into Old English as waer, which meant careful, aware, or wary, akin to Old High German giwar, aware or attentive. All that comes from a bit of research in Webster’s, which defines “reverence” as profound, adoring, awed respect.
Profound, adoring, awed respect. That’s what I saw in my grandson as he experienced an abstract painting for the first time. Which made me think about how we adults might try to regain some of that same awe ourselves, looking at the world as if seeing it for the first time. If you were tasting toast for the first time, how would you describe it? If this were your first time to see a tree or smell a rose, how would you react?
I remember getting glasses for the first time – I think I was in the fourth grade. For months before I got glasses, my vision had been blurred. When I walked out of the eye doctor’s office with my glasses, I was awed at how each leaf on the tree outside was so distinct. For years, I had to wear glasses or contacts to see anything farther than a few feet away. Then I got my vision corrected with laser surgery. Looking around for the first time without glasses or contacts was amazing. Waking up in the morning, looking out my bedroom window and actually seeing the trees, I felt profound, awed appreciation. Reverence.
We so often go through our world with our minds on the past or the future – or the screen in our hand – and we miss the wonder of the world around us. Can I tell a redbud from a goldenraintree from a contorted fig? Did I know there are red-violet shamrocks that fold up at night, or did I think the St. Patrick’s Day green shamrocks were the only ones? Did I know that there’s such a thing as blue poppies? There is, and they are amazingly beautiful.
Maybe part of the joy of wine-tasting, coffee-tasting, cheese-tasting is that we get to try something new for the first time. We try new foods or a new combination of flavors at a restaurant. Or we listen to a new song. Or witness an eclipse or see a falling star or watch a full moon rise. And if we stay aware, we may feel reverence.
Some things are just best the first time around, but if we can pause and see as if for the first time, maybe we can bring back the wonder. And, yes, even reverence. That’s why it’s a privilege to share firsts with a child. Because sometimes the best view is through a child’s eyes. (Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a good nap after lunch.)
“The only real voyage of discovery consists
not in seeking new landscapes
but in having new eyes.”
– Marcel Proust –
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Text, paintings, and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.