Restoring Ourselves with Wonder and Enchantment Published on December 18, 2023

Written by Lora Wondolowski, Director of Advancement and Communications, Peace Development Fund from An African American Point of View column

December and the holiday season always feel like a time of wonder and awe for me.  The lights, decorations, and celebrations create a feast for our eyes, ears, and hearts as we enjoy both traditions and new experiences.  This is also a season of gratitude when we take stock of our blessings and joys.  Both wonder and gratitude are important to unlocking our hearts and restoring our mental health.

Before I moved to the Valley, I lived in Washington DC and worked for the National Audubon Society.  At Audubon I ran an advocacy program that engaged our chapter members in supporting National Wildlife Refuges through volunteerism and advocacy for federal funding.  I quickly learned that the best way to engage folks was to join them in birding.  These experiences hooked me on birding which I still do casually to this day.

One of my favorite places to bird in the DC area was Huntley Meadows.  Huntley Meadows featured a wetland area with a network of boardwalks.  During one of my visits I spotted a king rail hiding among the reeds.  This was super exciting for me, as I had never seen one before.  As I was walking I passed a 5 or 6 year-old with a parent hurrying along.  I motioned to the kid to look very carefully for a tall brown bird.  His eyes grew huge as he delighted in seeing the rail.  I was also delighted to share my sighting and in his wonderment.

Although the holidays are filled with activity and delight, we are also entering a time of darkness and cold. Recently, I read Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age by Katherine May.  The author speaks about feeling dull and flat coming out of the pandemic. She longs to find herself again and be enchanted again to connect with the world.  Enchantment leads us to a sense of wonder or awe.

“I think I’m beginning to understand that the quest is the point. Our sense of enchantment is not triggered only by grand things; the sublime is not hiding in distant landscapes. The awe-inspiring, the numinous, is all around us, all the time.”—Katherine May

My experience at Huntley Meadows taught me that I don’t have to be at the Grand Canyon to experience wonder, it can be found all around us if we just take the time to look.  It is so easy to be cynical and ignore moments of wonder.  How many times do we rush by a piece of art in a store or miss a preying mantis on a leaf?  All of the challenges of the world weigh heavily and can push out our ability to seek enchantment. Yet, it is still there if we make space for it.

I also know that awe is in the eye of the beholder.  Admittedly, teenagers are hard to impress, but I’ve learned that things that enchant me do not always inspire my daughter.  On the other hand, she is often struck by the sunset.   We can share moments of wonder, but we each have our own pathways to discovery.

As we enter the holiday season, I am reminded to take time for enchantment and not rush towards each obligation.  I know the holidays can feel overwhelming with all the things to do and pressure to get it right.  There will be myriad opportunities to find awe at the Nutcracker, light displays, or a musical performance if we open our hearts in those moments.  The trick will be to continue to seek enchantment in January when the decorations and ebullient spirit dissipates.

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One response to “Restoring Ourselves with Wonder and Enchantment”

  1. Ingrid Bredenberg says:

    This is a very important reminder to retain (or reclaim) the wonder, curiosity, and delight that most people have as children. It’s a powerful practice to see even the “ordinary” through “new eyes.” So rewarding. Let’s look up from our phones once in awhile and find the the beauty.