The first time I experienced wonder was on my first day in kindergarten. That crisp, September morning, my mom took pictures of my brother and me on the stoop outside our house in Oshkosh, lunchboxes in tow, and she drove us the two blocks to the bus stop. The rest of the days we’d need to walk, but she decided to drive us because it was a special day. The bus stop was across the street, where the big kids – from the middle school to even the high school kids – were waiting.
I was turning into a big kid.
Because I was so excited, all training of what to do before crossing a street flew out of my mind, and I sprinted across the road to where the kids were standing. If I had looked, I would have seen a big, red pickup truck barreling down the residential street. Later, my mom told me that that truck was going at least 50 miles an hour – too fast to react to a sprinting and delighted little girl.
My mom, in her car, saw me running and she saw the barreling truck, ready for a full-on collision. Inside that car, my mom was screaming, shrieking.
I, outside and running, was focused on nothing but the kids on the corner, how the morning air was so fresh, and how I had never felt so alive as I was running across that street.
But then: I stopped.
In the middle of the road, in the middle of a child’s exuberant sprint, I came to a dead stop. There was no reason for it. Nothing was pulling me back. I didn’t hear my mom’s screams. I didn’t think of anything at all, not even when the red pickup truck sped by me, just inches from my nose, with its cold air rushing around my face, my body. I didn’t even think about what had happened – or what hadn’t happened – as I reached the other side.
My mom got out of the car, tears streaming down her face, and swallowed me in her arms, sobbing. She demanded that my brother and I get in the car, and she drove us to our first day of school, giving me the biggest lecture I had ever received. Of course, that night when Dad got home, I received an even bigger lecture.
Over the course of my life, I’ve thought about that day countless times. Why did I stop? Had I been afraid of something? Had I noticed the truck somehow, maybe out of the corner of my eye?
And each time that I reflect on it, even to this day, I have to admit that I hadn’t been afraid, I hadn’t seen the truck, and I was thinking about nothing but reaching the other side of the street. In my child’s mind, there truly was no reason.
That was my first experience of wonder, of the inexplicable and mysterious. Throughout my life there have been countless of other experiences, and at the end of each of these stories, I find myself saying, quietly and gratefully: I don’t know.