The stupendous oddness of being

I wake up, it’s light, there’s a slight wind slipping through the trees, and above these, is that purity of blue that arrives with a clear morning.

I am in my skin when it overtakes me how strange this all is. This being bodily present, a witness to a scene: a poplar tree rising out of a hill into the sky and wind; how strange to be a conscious witness to this sliver in time and these specific dimensions of space.

substanThe question, why is there something and not nothing? comes to mind, but this hardly lifts the cover on the mysteries bearing down on that moment when you stand gaping into a horizon. Your body joined somehow to the wind and the land and blueness reflected everywhere, but joined through an impossible disjointedness.

I am trying to find words for what I felt yesterday morning, a perfectly lucid morning if you’re wondering, but there are no precise words. (I could make some up, but that would satisfy no one, least of all myself.)

All I know is that I felt a kind of stupendous oddness of being (stupendous is the right word here, Latin, stupendus, simply, “to be wondered at”). I wondered at the oddity of being alive, of experiencing this splinter in space and time, here among all these other things, but with the otherness taking on a whole new strangeness as though—no, not as though I was seeing everything for the first time—but that I was part of an everything that was experiencing me as I am; and I am utterly naked.

Like you no doubt, I have felt a form of this before, when I was very young and became consciousness of, say, my hand in relation to the handlebar on a tricycle and the tricycle to the sidewalk and so on to the whole swirling world beyond. Now however, it seems, with age, this other-wonder is returning more and more, but with an essential difference—the view-finder is reversed, or rather, the view is expanded.

To analyse this experience further would lead me beyond my own ken, and to something like the metaphysics or philosophy of alterity, which, if you haven’t already stopped reading, should make you. And it would make what was really not all that remarkable sound esoteric. (Which only perpetuates the silliness of privileged otherness.)

The nakedness—I could almost say innocence—I felt in experiencing my own stupendous oddness through a momentary glance backwards, or rather, through a labyrinth of mirrors—through the poplar’s knotty eyes, the blue-eyed wind, this woman, that child—struck me as a relational key, whose real purpose is mercy.

What stuck through all this, is that sameness breeds ignorance, creates herds, but otherness brings meaning and freedom. Meaning, in that I become, I am, a self, only through the reflection of these “faces,” your face. Freedom, in that I can respond to difference/otherness with fear and hate, violence, colonialism; or I can love, learn love, grow mercy.

To live and flourish is to stand in such a way as to openly receive the otherness of the other’s, and your own, stupendous oddness.

(fyi: after writing the phrase, “labyrinth of mirrors,” I searched, and found the above link)


  1. Thanks, Steve. You’ve reawakened some of my own reveries, most often occurring while suspended at the speed of life somewhere outside the city like, for example, while picking wild blue berries. Undefined mystery of being! Unspoken wonder about the opportunity!

  2. I read the whole thing, Steve – at one or two points I said “huh?”
    Had to google “alterity” and then realized that I’ve seen the word in my own work – people discover healing as otherness is introduced into their lives as a counter to their depressions, anxieties, etc. Thus mercy….

  3. was 21
    on a mountainside
    sitting with a new friend
    taking in the spectacle of our surroundings
    feeling an electrified calm and connectedness to the moment
    felt the awe and the oddness you speak of
    asked him, “why do we find the mountains beautiful? why are we moved by it all?”
    he said, ” ‘why’ … that’s a pretty good question by itself.”

    you’ve offered some grist for that mill

    (note: your line “labyrinth of mirrors” brought to my mind a line in a song. I heard it by chance just yesterday. The song always touches and moves me, but yesterday the line about mirrors caught my attention and caused me to ponder it’s meaning:

    “on a river of sound
    to the mirror-go-round

    i thought I could feel

    music touching my soul
    something warm sudden cold
    the spirit dance was un-foldin'” John Lennon)

    only just stumbled on your work
    and coincidentally/synchronistically enough
    just yesterday I suggested to a certain circle, a murder of mavens of mayhem, bent on earning their badger badge, proud of their thug credentials; just yesterday I suggested they might want to consider growing a soul. And today I find your page entitled Grow Mercy… (more “things that make you go hmmm…”)

  4. MoAnn, one of the joys of maintaining this humble work is being stumbled upon. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, and for recalling Lennon’s ‘Dream song’ …which I will need to listen to again. Here’s to serendipitous things and “growing souls.”

  5. “…humble work” (?)
    YOU are being humble. The work is tremendous. Thank YOU. Here’s to stumbling on(ward) 🙂

  6. For some reason I missed this mystical moment. At times of connectedness like you describe I consider the probability of a particular sperm entering a particular egg and add that to the probability of my parents meeting and feeling like a winner of a long odds lottery winner and more mysterious yet, was I chosen?

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