“Awe” is a word my English teachers often went on about especially when they were teaching the work of the Romantic poets. I remember thinking, “Awe. That’s important. I’m going to spend my life experiencing ‘awe’.”
Hardly a decision you can make. I have experienced it a few times, but not where I might have expected it. But then, one quality of awe is that it usually hits you by surprise. You can’t go looking for it.
I think the last time I experienced awe was in 2004 when I was wandering around a church in Verona, looking at frescoes and I turned into the oldest part of the church and there were two men working behind a tarp they’d hung to keep the dust away from their work. I could see what they were doing — they were restoring some 10th century frescoes — and they were talking about football and what they were going to have for lunch. The sun was shining very brightly through the circular window to the east.
It was a scene right out of the the 10th century. I’m sure two guys just like them had painted the frescoes in the first place, had talked about whatever street sport people played in 10th century Verona, and had talked about what they were going to have for lunch. I’m sure the sun shone through the circular window to the east in exactly the same way (same sun, after all) and there was probably a canvas tarp hanging in that very spot to keep the dust away from the painting.
I sat down on a bench across a narrow passageway and watched them work — as much as I could over the tarp. I don’t know if they knew I was there. They stopped for lunch, and I left thinking that I’d been very fortunate to have walked into a time machine.
I can’t see this word any more — awe — without remembering Eddy Izzard’s monologue, “Awesome.” So here it is. Have a laugh!