The most unexpected things can get me thinking – like a NY Times review of HBO’s How To With John Wilson (here) which continues to stay with me.
I’m not quite as enamored of the series as Times critic James Poniewozik, but I love Wilson’s ability to be filled with curiosity and wonder as he navigates his life. The review mentions that Wilson captures remarkable sights by “looking up, or down, where you and I would stare straight ahead.”
Which begs the question, where are you looking? My focus is rarely straight ahead.
“From wonder into wonder existence grows.” – Lao Tzu
My Recent Experience
I have a long history of being amazed at the beauty of nature – babbling brooks, waterfalls of all sizes, the burst of renewal that is spring, the brilliant colors of autumn. Each fills me with wonder and awe.
Often it is something human-built that catches my eye and takes my breath away. Recently, it was a building that I had been sitting in front of but didn’t see until I looked up.
I was in the East Village, not far from where I live, attending a reading given by an author who is a friend of mine. A group of us were sitting with our backs to the traffic on St. Marks Place, in a charming area leading to the bookstore that sponsored the reading.
The person next to me and I chatted as we waited. And then I looked up and was immediately filled with wonder. We were at the base of an extraordinary building – it was beautiful!
Curiosity came next. No one near me knew anything about the building. The internet solved the mystery and raised more curiosity. And so it continued.
What I Learned
This incredible building was the home of the Deutsch-Amerikanische Schuetzen Gesellschaft, or German-American Shooting Society. It is fitting that this structure was built here – this area of the East Village was known as Little Germany from the 1840s to the early 1900s.
I learned that the Shooting Society built it in 1888 and owned it until 1920. It housed a saloon, lodge rooms, a bowling alley, and a small shooting range in the basement. At one point in its history, it was a Ukrainian Culture Center.
All of this was new to me. When I first walked along St. Marks Place thirteen years ago, it was filled with tattoo shops, drug paraphernalia shops, motorcycles, and people sitting on apartment steps smoking. I rarely went back until recently.
It has changed so much that I find myself challenging my memory. Today the street is lined with restaurants and tea shops from across Asia – Cantonese, Sichuan, Japanese, Vietnamese. Everything is brighter, cleaner, more spacious. Asian communities are leaving their mark just as the Germans did long before them.
Being open to revisiting my initial discomfort in the East Village, allowed me to experience the wonder of its history as well as its transformation. I am struck by the movement of cultures over time – the waves of immigrants who lived there and formed new communities together.
Over time, many of those communities moved further uptown or expanded east to Brooklyn and Queens, but cultural anchors remain to be discovered. They are windows into the past. Appreciating those anchors carries forward to enhance my appreciation of what is there today.
I am one of those people who really does stop and smell the roses – and capture a photo when I can. I’m never in too much of a hurry to enjoy the beauty I encounter.
The feeling of wonder and joy washes over me, and it lifts my heart.
“Wisdom begins in wonder.” – Socrates
Where are you looking – and what do you see?
The German American Shooting Society building, NYC – Photo by the Author