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The Greatest Gift Of All

2006-09-08 13:48

    Not long ago, I came down with an excruciating ailment known as gout." Like walking on your own eyeballs, " a colleague graphically described it.

    I hobbled to my doctor's office, where I received an injection and a prescription for some mysterious, oddly shaped pills. Within hours I was almost totally relieved of pain. Merlin himself could not have performed more magically. Yet I took this boon from modern medicine as merely my due, and within a few days I caught myself damning" the high cost of doctors and drugs."

    Many of us, I fear, have a take-it-for-granted attitude towards the natural and technological marvels that surround us. As a result, except for poets, and fools, we seem to have lost the precious gift of wonder. It is a grievous loss. To Bacon, wonder was "the seed of knowledge," and to Montaigne, "the foundation of all philosophy."

    "Wonder is a word to wonder about," says Dr. Lewis Thomas in a New York Times article. Thomas, who is present emeritus of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, adds, "It contains a mixture of message: something marvelous and miraculous, surprising, raising unanswerable questions about itself, making the observer wonder, even raising skeptical questions like 'I wonder about that'."

    In The Tangled Wing, anthropologist Melvin Konner of Emory University describes the sense of wonder as a "rapt attention." It is, he says, "a sort of wonderment at the spectacle of the world, and its apprehensibility by the mind; a focusing, for the purpose of elevation; an intelligent walking dream."

    However, rather than paying "rapt attention" to, for example, mankind's amazing progress, books, magazines, sermons and newspapers often emphasize the failures and dangers in modern life.

    True, in many cases, it is a legitimate fear that undercuts our sense of wonder——the amazing nuclear that helps power our cities and also could destroy them. But I nonetheless agree with Melvin Konner, to whom the sense of the wonder represents "the key to being human. In that capacity," he writes," we find our greatest distinction, and in that may be our salvation."

    My father died more than 50 years ago, and the other day I jotted down a few of the wonders we take for granted that would have thrilled and awed him beyond measure —— man walking on the moon……home air-conditioning……computer……frozen food……antipolio vaccine and a thousand other medical discoveries.

    And what of modern electrified household aids? Does anyone ever wonder at the magic of the vacuum cleaner, automatic washer, dryer and refrigerator? My mother never knew such marvels—— she had the hand carpet sweeper, old-fashioned washtub in the basement, backyard clothesline and ugly wooden icebox.

    Not since the Age of Discovery have there been such breathtaking breakthroughs. In an address at Harvard, Jean Mayer, president of Tufts University, described the most important ones:

    The conquest of energy. "Never have we had so many sources of energy and so much power potentially available per person as we have now."

    Our escape from gravity. "Space exploration has given different consciousness of Earth, how our planet is exceptional in the solar system——a single, small globe on which unique conditions created life as we know it and which is likely to be our home for a long time."

    The intellectual revolution of data processing. "This alteration in the life of man is far more akin in its importance to the discovery of language than to the much more limited discovery of movable type, which itself changed the history of Western civilization."

    The genetic revolution. " After millions of years of being the objects of evolution, we have the potential to become its master."

    Yet despite so many wonders, we remain quick to criticize, slow to marvel. "Never have so many people taken up indictment as a pastime," writes Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish essayist, poet and Nobel Prize winner.

    In some cases, perhaps, familiarity dulls our sense of wonderment. Let me illustrate from my own experience. I owned——rather, I survived——several Model T Fords that had to be hand cranked. You depressed the spark and gas levers, and then you got out and cranked. And cranked. When she finally caught, you run back to the steering wheel, and quickly depressed both levers even farther before the engine died on you, as she frequently did in cold weather.

    The engine sometimes backfired, causing the hand crank to spin in the wrong direction, so you risked breaking your thumb or your arm. But then came the wonder of wonders: the self-starter! Today motorists casually accept the self-starter with no appreciation of what it does for them. Oh, for a time machine that could whisk them back to some bitter-cold February day in the 1920s.

    Look about you! Some wonders are as old as the wheel, some as new as the space shuttle. The gift of wonders enables us to see all the world with fresh, and appreciative eyes. Thus, we acquire a zest for living and achieve essayist Water Pater's marvelous prescription:" To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy is success in life."

    Even more, wonder inspires in us a sense of gratitude for all that man has done for man, not to him. And that, I think, is the greatest gift of all.

    NOTE:

    excruciating: adj.极痛苦的, 折磨人的 ailment: n.疾病(尤指微恙), 不宁, 不安

    grievous: adj.令人忧伤的 emeritus: adj.名誉退休的, 退休的

    rapt: adj.全神贯注的 elevation: n.上升,提高, 崇高, 壮严

    legitimate: adj.合法的, 合理的, 正统的 nonetheless: adv.虽然如此, 但是

    vaccine: adj.疫苗的, 牛痘的; n.疫苗 vacuum cleaner: n.真空吸尘器

    gravity: n.地心引力, 重力 solar system: n.[天] 太阳系

    data processing: n.[计] 资料处理 akin: adj.同族的, 类似的

    genetic: adj.遗传的, 起源的 evolution: n.进展, 发展, 演变, 进化

    indictment: n.控告 shuttle: n.往返汽车, 航天飞机, 梭子, 穿梭

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