Reclaiming Awe

One of the many cesspools we’ll have to clean up post-Bushco is our language. There are words I find myself avoiding because they have been so tainted with lies and evil that their original meaning has been mutilated. A project like that doesn’t rate as high on the priority list as things like ending the war in Iraq, stopping the use of torture, addressing climate change, fixing the economy, and joining with the people of the gulf coast to restore their home. But it is something I hope we can do along the way.

For me, a word that is seriously in need of restoration is “awe.” I just hate the fact that every time I hear that word these days, I think of the destruction and death “shock and awe” caused in Iraq. Its such a beautiful word and it was used in the most vile way imaginable. So, my hope is that we will not only end our perpetuation of violence in that country and at least TRY to find a way to make amends for what we have done, but that we will also recognize that our leaders took a concept that should inspire peace and bastardized it as a tool for war.

One of my favorite pieces of literature is Jane Wagner’s play “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” that was written for and performed by Lily Tomlin. The premise of the play is that Lily is a bag lady that channels aliens from outer space who are here to explore humanity. These aliens are curious about the concept of “goose bumps” so Lily’s character takes them to a play because that’s a place she has experienced goose bumps in the past.

On the way to the play, we stopped to look at the stars.

And as usual,

I felt in awe.

And then I felt even deeper in awe at this capacity we have to be

in awe about something.

Then I became even more awestruck

at the thought that I was,

in some small way,

a part of that which I was in awe about.

And this feeling went on

and on

and on…

My space chums got a word for it:

“awe infinitum.”

I decided I would set time aside each day to do awe-robics.

To be in awe for me seems to encompass both our magnificence and our humility all at the same time. We are insignificant specks on the one hand. And yet we are a part of a universe that is beautiful and bold beyond our imagination. I think that second part is what we often feel, but fail to articulate. As Lily’s character says, “Then I became even more awestruck at the thought that I was, in some small way, a part of that which I was in awe about.” Bring on the goose bumps!!

Here are just a few of the things that inspire awe in me.  


They will kill me but they will not kill my voice, because it will be the voice of all Afghan women. You can cut the flower, but you cannot stop the coming of spring.

Malalai Joya

Students in Waller County, Texas marching two weeks ago to end their disenfranchisement.

My grandniece Bella’s first halloween

My niece Dani

But of course, I am also awe-struck by music. The problem is that there are so many songs that inspire goosebumps, depending on the mood I’m in. But here’s one that does it for me, no matter the day, time, or situation.


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  1. Lily’s character (Trudy) tells us what happened at the play,

    Did I tell you what happened at the play? We were at the back of the theater, standing there in the dark, all of a sudden I feel one of ’em tug my sleeve, whispers, “Trudy, look.” I said, “Yeah, goose bumps. You definitely got goose bumps. You really like the play that much?” They said it wasn’t the play gave ’em goose bumps, it was the audience.

    I forgot to tell ’em to watch the play; they’d been watching the audience!

    Yeah, to see a group of strangers sitting together in the dark, laughing and crying about the same things…that just knocked ’em out.

    There you have it folks…the awe of Docudharma!!

  2. There must be all sorts of other words that are in similar need of reclamation.  “Liberal,” of course, comes immediately to mind, as does “freedom.”

    But I’m sure people can think of many others.

    Nice diary, NLinStPaul.

    • Alma on March 2, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    really is awesome!  🙂

    • Robyn on March 2, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Sort of what I think about when I listen to Carlos Nakai.  Apparently it was a fortunate inspiration to do a Nakai morning for the Retrospective.

  3. and how we got into this mess in the first place!


  4. One of my favorite of DeBussy’s!

    Yes, you are so right, there is slime attached to some words that once were great words.  It might take a generation or two to be rid of the stigma.

    • brobin on March 2, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    and caring for plants.  Now whenever I discuss the azaleas, gardenias, heather, etc. around my home, I call them just that.  Azalea, gardenia, heather.  I just can’t bring myself to say “shrub, hedge, bush.”

  5. inspires awe………..

  6. i can only imagine how ugly that word has become to those being forced to endure death and destruction for something called… democracy

  7. The World is a Beautiful Place

    The world is a beautiful place

    to be born into

    if you don’t mind happiness

    not always being

    so very much fun

    if you don’t mind a touch of hell

    now and then

    just when everything is fine

    because even in heaven

    they don’t sing

    all the time

    The world is a beautiful place

    to be born into

    if you don’t mind some people dying

    all the time

    or maybe only starving

    some of the time

    which isn’t half bad

    if it isn’t you

    Oh the world is a beautiful place

    to be born into

    if you don’t much mind

    a few dead minds

    in the higher places

    or a bomb or two

    now and then

    in your upturned faces

    or such other improprieties

    as our Name Brand society

    is prey to

    with its men of distinction

    and its men of extinction

    and its priests

    and other patrolmen

    and its various segregations

    and congressional investigations

    and other constipations

    that our fool flesh

    is heir to

    Yes the world is the best place of all

    for a lot of such things as

    making the fun scene

    and making the love scene

    and making the sad scene

    and singing low songs and having inspirations

    and walking around

    looking at everything

    and smelling flowers

    and goosing statues

    and even thinking

    and kissing people and

    making babies and wearing pants

    and waving hats and


    and going swimming in rivers

    on picnics

    in the middle of the summer

    and just generally

    ‘living it up’


    but then right in the middle of it

    comes the smiling


    • Metta on March 2, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    Maybe because her humor has always been a part of my life.

    Do you know when she did those performances?

    I will be mindful of the awe”someness” of life today!  Thanks

  8. my brother was a surfer and awesome the slang word, I always thought came from the surfers who experienced, the awe of riding the waves of the ocean. Your right our language in political discourse is truly reversed. A lot of work to be done reversing the damage done to the meanings of our words and concepts. They have been stood on their heads.

    Security is a good example also. I had a civics teacher who passed out vocabulary sheets that listed the many ways politicians and scoundrels, twist words to manipulate and turn the night time day. One of my hopes is that civics will be reinstated in all our schools. It helps if you know the tricks  when the propagandists start in.    

    • Edger on March 3, 2008 at 2:39 pm

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