Unexpected Awe

The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of Nature, was the first spiritual experience.

Henryk Skolimowski (Polish philosopher)

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing a live production of Alvin Ailey’s dance troupe. Alvin Ailey was a Texas-born choreographer who founded his own dance theater and school in the 1980s. I don’t remember specifics of the performance other than a palpable feeling of awe with the athletics and stamina of the dancers, even from the nose bleed seats in the theater.

A few weeks ago, I came across a promotion for Alvin Ailey in Berkeley and snatched up two of the last remaining seats. I was pretty happy with myself and excited to relive the experience I had decades ago. The day came and as the performance continued, I started to have feelings but they weren’t of admiration but more of confusion and slight disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, the dancers executed beautifully but for some reason, it didn’t make an impression on me this time around; something had changed. I still admired the technical aspects of their dance but my 20-something year old emotional reaction remained elusive.


As the performance ended and we left, I mentioned to my companion about how I was feeling. The feeling of awe that I was looking for just never came. He responded rather wisely that it’s really difficult in this day and age to be wowed by many things. We have access to so much online from Instagram to YouTube—any and everything you could ever want to see is available at the press of a button rendering experiences that we once thought were unique to be lackluster.

That same weekend, I visited Muir Woods for a day hike. Muir Woods is located north of San Francisco and is home to a forest towering with old-growth redwood trees and gorgeous streams. Even though I’ve lived only miles away for several years, this was my first time visiting. Within minutes of entering the park, I had a feeling of peace and amazement at the natural beauty of the place. Except for the occasional sound of other visitors, I have to say it was a very serene sanctuary. My friend (the same one that attended the performance) and I spent the day hiking and craning our necks to scan the length of the massive trees. It really was awe inspiring.

The irony of the experience is that in spite of our access to everything available in the online and real world, giants trees were able to render me breathless. The simplicity of nature was enough to illicit the feeling I was looking for from a stage and for that, I’m extremely grateful.


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