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The most wonderful fact is that I exist

The most wonderful fact is that I exist
November 02
15:34 2018

Michael Mayne

Michael Mayne

My subject is wonder, and my starting point is so obvious it often escapes us. It is me, sitting at a table looking out on the world. It is the fact that I exist, that there is anything at all. It is the givenness that astonishes: the fact that the mountains, the larch tree, the gentian, the jay, exist, and that someone called me is here to observe them.

It is what the Cambridge philosopher Wittgenstein called ‘existential wonder’, and there is nowhere else to begin. Not with theories of the Big Bang, nor with what subatomic physics tells us of the nature of matter, but with the most disarming fact of all: the world is and it might not have been. It is: I am. That is the first wonder: what do we make of it?
I can come to understand that there is no object (and certainly no person) not worthy of wonder, and that what makes them so is that each in its or his or her essence is a) unique; b) unlikely [are giraffes and flamingoes likely? Is the humming bird? Or Mozart?]; c) ‘other’ and d) not mastered, that is to say, not capable of being fully understood, docketed and explained.
Have I known such utterly convincing moments? Yes. Some forty years ago, when swimming in a translucent sea off the Dalmatian coast; another twenty years later high on a hill in a summer night in Iona; a third in the stillness of a Romanesque church in Burgundy.
(A striking paragraph in his book comes from Brian Keenan’s ‘An Evil Cradling’, written while hostage in Beirut, often in solitary confinement. After an interminable time of sitting in the dark, Keenan is brought some small oranges:)

“My eyes are almost burned by what I see. The fruit, the colors, mesmerize me in a quiet rapture that spins through my head … I lift an orange into the flat filthy palm of my hand and feel and smell and lick it. The color orange, the color, the color, my God the color orange. Before me is a feast of color. I feel myself begin to dance, slowly, I am intoxicated by color… Such wonder, such absolute wonder in such insignificant fruit. I cannot, I will not eat this fruit. I sit in quiet joy, so completely beyond the meaning of joy. My soul finds its own completeness in that bowl of color … I want to bow before it, loving that blazing, roaring, orange color … In there in that tiny bowl, the world recreated in that tiny bowl … I focus all of my attention on that bowl of fruit … I cannot hold the ecstasy of the moment and its passionate intensity … I am filled with a sense of love.”

Excerpted from ‘This Sunrise of Wonder’. Michael Mayne was an English priest of the Church of England who served as the Dean of Westminster.

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