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Margaret Somerville

The importance of the ineffable

Rebekah Hebbert emailed me asking: "If you had one message/piece of advice/warning for students in 750 (or so) words, what would it be?" What a daunting question to receive. What on earth could be important enough to be that “one message”? I decided that what we all know to be important – family, friends, love, trust, loyalty, honesty and so on – should not be the focus of my message. So, I thought long and hard, but then, as I always do when faced with a complex and difficult decision, I decided to “trust my unconscious” – put the issue at the back of my mind and wait. (To do that, by the way, is my first piece of advice!)  Here’s the message for students it came up with: You should be open to experiencing amazement, wonder and awe, in as many situations and as often as possible.For me, such an experience can occur in a myriad of settings. For instance, on a calm, freezing winter night on seeing the full moon reflected in the Fleuve Saint Laurent, or, in early Spring, a sparkling, dew-encrusted spider web on my front terrace or a frozen raindrop on a small blade of grass on the river bank. It can come, in an instant, when watching a video resulting from pointing the Hubble Space Telescope at a seemingly blank patch of sky and detecting over three thousand galaxies at the edge of the universe, each one containing billions of stars. Or it can slowly emerge in musing on how beautiful my cats’ movements are, hearing about startling new scientific research results that provide hitherto unimaginable insights, or watching a ballet.I believe that experiencing “amazement, wonder and awe” enriches our lives, can help us to find meaning, and can change how we see the… Read More