On Being Awed

Last evening, I read a New York Times “guest essay” that resonated with my own thoughts. It was titled “Why Space Tourists Won’t Find the Awe They Seek.” The author, Henry Wismayer, a travel writer based in London, made a persuasive case. Super rich tourists pay upwards of $450,000 to rocket to what’s called the edge of space (about 1 /5,000th of the way to the moon, by the way) and are served champagne upon return to celebrate their experience. Wismayer explains that “under such contrived conditions, awe will always be a chimera.” To seek awe is to undercut finding it.

After reading this essay, I recalled some instances in which I’ve experienced awe. The first time cost 25 cents at most rather than $450,000. It occurred when our family spent a week’s vacation in Miami Beach in 1941 when I was ten years-old. There was virtually no light pollution in the park we strolled through one evening, and we came upon a man with a telescope on a tripod who offered to let anyone look through it for a small fee. Pop treated, and for the first time I saw Jupiter as a disc, and lined up in a row on either side of it three or four of its moons. I doubt if Galileo was more thrilled than I when he had the same experience. I had an ice-cream cone afterwards, but it wasn’t to celebrate being awed.