By Mary Petersen, Signal Staff Writer
I was taking care of my grandson recently. I watched this little 17-month-old scrutinize a spoon with such wide-eyed wonder that it made me laugh. I can’t remember a time when a spoon was that fascinating to me. He felt the lines of the spoon, the texture. He tasted it and shook it. He explored every facet of a mundane object that I take for granted each day.
It reminds me of the contrast between form and function. For me, a spoon serves a mere practical function. It’s nothing I have to examine or appreciate. For him, the aesthetic form, the sleek beauty, the cool stainless steel were fascinating. He found joy in the beauty of a form that I consider ordinary and commonplace.
I admit I was a little envious of his perspective. He’s so curious, so interested in learning. Although he doesn’t talk yet, he points to everything he sees, eager to hear what it’s called — toaster, squirrel, banana. He laughs, delighted by the sounds of words. His eyes open wide in great surprise and pleasure to see a plane in the sky or hear a dog bark. Taste, touch, sound — everything is new.
As adults we often stop noticing beauty and stop paying attention to details, to people, to moments of wonder. Life becomes tedious. Wrought with hardships and challenges, the daily grind can be exhausting.
Like John Mellencamp says, “Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.” It’s all we can do to juggle the duties of the day. Imagine waking up and feeling excited just to get out of bed, being captivated by the wagging tail of a dog, laughing at the funny shape and feel of a tangerine peel?
It is human nature to be curious. Curiosity is the driving force that motivates us to investigate new ideas, explore new experiences and discover new insights. It’s a vital part of the learning process at every age.
Unfortunately, we can lose this inquisitiveness as we grow to adulthood and become jaded. We stop seeing things through what Buddhists call “beginners’ eyes.” With a toddler as my role model I was inspired to find these tiny pure delights that often go undetected, to find joy in what writer Heather Neal calls the “hidden spaces of chaotic life.” Little ones prompt us to have this kind of curiosity.
The saying goes that “curiosity killed the cat,” but I don’t think that expression always applies. The impulse toward curiosity provides the foundation for a life of joy, gratitude and simplicity. It keeps our mind active, our heart open and our attitude positive.
Actually, the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” is only part of the expression. The whole idiom states, “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” In this complete idiom, the cat lives. Curiosity does not kill it, but rather promotes a deep satisfaction that is worth the risk of being passionately curious.
Mary Petersen is a retired COC English instructor, 30-year SCV resident and two-time breast cancer survivor.