“Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.” – Baudelaire
Isaac Newton saw his world-changing discoveries as something he did when he was “like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
Yesterday, I spent the day with my two grandchildren, ages 3 years and 9 months. Those times are when I often come closest to recovering from my childhood moments of discovery and a different way of seeing the world. We use the word “wonderful” for many things that are not full of wonder – or perhaps, they are filled with wonder but we fail to see it. Think of looking up at the night sky, or at a wave forming and crashing or a plant blooming or making fruit, or a young bird testing its wings. Wonderful.
I came to these thoughts from our play time yesterday and noted them because of an article on The Marginalian (a website often filled with wonder). It was mostly about observing as done by John Steinbeck. He is an author that I read very intensely in my teen years, but have read much of late.
The book that was quoted is his non-fiction The Log from the Sea of Cortez which I had not read. This somewhat forgotten book of his (as compared to his Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden) is about one of his marine biology expeditions in the Gulf of California, but in some ways, it is a book on how to observe and how to think.
Here is one excerpt:
As always when one is collecting, we were soon joined by a number of small boys. The very posture of search, the slow movement with the head down, seems to draw people. “What did you lose?” they ask.
“Then what do you search for?” And this is an embarrassing question. We search for something that will seem like truth to us; we search for understanding; we search for that principle which keys us deeply into the pattern of all life; we search for the relations of things, one to another, as this young man searches for a warm light in his wife’s eyes and that one for the hot warmth of fighting. These little boys and young men on the tide flat do not even know that they search for such things too. We say to them, “We are looking for curios, for certain small animals.”
Then the little boys help us to search.
Though it seems like the boys and the adults were searching for different things, they really were searching for the same things.
My title makes me think of the dreamy Moody Blues song, “Eyes of a Child.” It is on the album To Our Children’s Children’s Children. Those will be my great-grandchildren who I don’t expect to ever meet. That concept album is mostly about the world we leave the generations after us. I also think it is about how we see the world and the idea of observing it through those childlike eyes that see wonder and are full of curiosity about the what, why, and how of so many things.
I do sometimes think that my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and beyond might one day read things I have written – on paper or online. Some of those words are about me, our family, their grandfather, their father, and even about them in my imaginings. Although many of those words are through the eyes of an adult and now an old man, I hope some of them came from the place that I once was as a child too.
“We dismiss wonder commonly with childhood. Much later, when life’s pace has slackened, wonder may return. The mind then may find so much inviting wonder the whole world becomes wonderful. Then one thing is scarcely more wonderful than is another. But, greatest wonder, our wonder soon lapses. A rainbow every morning who would pause to look at? The wonderful which comes often or is plentifully about us is soon taken for granted. That is practical enough. It allows us to get on with life. But it may stultify if it cannot on occasion be thrown off. To recapture now and then childhood’s wonder, is to secure a driving force for occasional grown-up thoughts.” – Charles Scott Sherrington