I have a friend who is, among other things, a very fine magician. He performs illusions—I don’t like to think of them as “tricks”—that leave me wondering. Period. I’ve given up asking “how did you that?” because I don’t really want to know. I can live with wonder; in fact, I’m not sure I could live without it.
Close observation of the world around us is another very fine thing. Along with a million other people, I’m currently reading a novel by Delia Owens called “Where the Crawdads Sings.” It is, among other things, the story of a “marsh girl,” first a young girl and then a young woman who spends her life largely alone in the marshlands of the Carolina low country. She fills her days with the close observation of nature: the flora and fauna of the marsh, tiny jewel-like feathers, sea shells, bird nests—all the mostly forgotten or overlooked creations that surround us everyday. There is more to the story, of course, because the business of life does have a way of intruding upon the stillness of nature. It’s a sad truth, one that makes folk understandably suspect of those among us who choose to live in wonder.
Now I don’t want to give too much of the plot of the novel away, but the unschooled marsh girl learns to read and introduces her sense of wonder to the intricacies of a rational universe. She begins her self-directed path of discovery with Aldo Leopold’s masterpiece “A Sand County Almanac” and eventually makes her way to Einstein’s space-time continuum, which, like my friend’s magic, leaves me pondering existence and reeling with wonder. To begin to wrap my mind around Einstein’s theory, I googled “space-time continuum for dummies” and came up with this definition: “Einstein’s theory of special relativity created a fundamental link between space and time. The universe can be viewed as having three space dimensions — up/down, left/right, forward/backward — and one time dimension. This 4-dimensional space is referred to as the space–time continuum.” I stopped right there. Going any farther would have been like asking my magician friend “how the hell did you do that?” I’m content to live without complete understanding, to remain in wonder. I’m ok with things beyond my ken.
Now don’t mistake my acceptance of wonder in the world for rejection of reality in that same world. I accept that I live in a rational world in which I need to know some pretty basic stuff. I usually know how to get to the bus stop and which bus to take. I’m ok with these transactions—they’re what we all need to get through our days and live fulfilled lives. But I try not to let the realities of my life snuff out the sense of wonder that lies beneath. I’m not always successful, but there’s bravery in the attempt.
One reason, among many, that I love living on this side of the Bay is that I feel I’m that much closer to wonder over here. The natural world is more observable, more accessible on this side of the bridge. It’s easier to wonder where the pace is slower, the friendships deeper, the stars that much brighter. I spent a lot of years over there. As I wind down now, moments are more luminous over here.
A couple of months ago, I went to watch the Super Bowl at my magician’s friend’s house with a few other friends. Before the game, he showed us a locked box in which there was another box. One of us was told to guard the box and to make sure it was not touched. At half time, my friend had one of the guests unlock the box, open the inner box and extract a piece of paper. Three things were written on the paper inside: the prediction of a card selected by someone in the audience before the game; the total of three random numbers written down by three different people; and the score of the game at halftime. My friend the magician had someone open the locked box. He did not touch the locked box, the box inside the locked box, or the paper inside that box. The selected card: correct. The total of the three numbers: correct. The halftime score, 3-0, Patriots: correct.
Now how the hell did he do that?
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com