Regaining wonder with 21 pilots

My oldest daughter is now a huge fan of a group called 21 pilots, and she especially loves their song, Stressed Out.

There’s a great line in the chorus:

Wish we could turn back time to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

Here it is:

It reminded me of a song I loved when I was around fifteen years old by Supertramp, The Logical Song. Here it is:

I liked that song at the time because it expressed my own inchoate frustration with the experience of teen life stripping away my previous love of life’s simple beauties and natural wonder. Between the ages of two and thirteen I was head-over-heels in love with the natural world, and progressively alternated my future plans for a lifetime career in four stages: Entomologist, Ornithologist, Horticulturalist, Meteorologist. As I recounted a few months ago in a post:

Some of my earliest childhood memories include a rapt fascination with the natural world. My dad says I would sit in front of an ant hill for lengthy periods of time, when I was 4 or 5 years old, and stare in motionless attention for half to three quarters of an hour. I can still recall — and feel — the throbbing joy I would feel smelling the sweet scent of those hot pink Spring azaleas and watching the bumble bees dart from blossom to blossom siphoning out the nectar with frantic excitement.

I also remember that, when I was around age 7, I would regularly steal away into a small patch of dense woods near our house, thrilled at the prospect of hiding away in secret solitude. There, very many times, I sensed a warm and joyful presence that seemed to emanate (for lack of a better word) harmony from the otherwise unruly tangle of sights, sounds and smells. I am convinced now it was God I intuited.

At age sixteen or seventeen, I would sometimes sit outside in the evening as the sun set looking with sadness at the overgrown gardens I once tended with great love and passion, or the dilapidated birdhouses I’d eagerly cleaned out and repaired between nestings. I wondered why I did not care anymore, why high school pressures or worries about the future had stolen from me my capacity to live in the present with abandon.

When I (re)gained my Christian faith at the age of twenty, I suddenly found my early love reviving. Somehow, what the Evangelicals (who helped bring me back to faith) called being “born again” took on a remarkable meaning: the wonder and awe of childhood, which had been stolen from me, was renewed and restored. In fact, I remember, only days after my faith came alive, looking at an azalea in bloom by Landis Hall and plopping myself on the ground and just gushing in joy over it. I thought, “Wow, this is how I used to see things.” The late Avery Cardinal Dulles expressed this, too, in his conversion memoir in 1946:

But then, in 1939, one grey February afternoon, in Harvard’s Widener Library, I was irresistibly prompted to go out into the open air . . . . The slush of melting snow formed a deep mud along the banks of the River Charles, which I followed down toward Boston . . . . As I wandered aimlessly, something impelled me to look contemplatively at a young tree. On its frail, supple branches were young buds . . . . While my eye rested on them, the thought came to me suddenly, with all the strength and novelty of a revelation, that these little buds in their innocence and meekness followed a rule, a law of which I as yet knew nothing . . . . That night, for the first time in years, I prayed.

Now and then, when I am stressed by life’s demands these days, I reflect back on my childhood when life was much simpler. Not easy, but simpler. I head down to the shore of Lake Pontchartrain and I find my seven year old self, in memory, sitting quietly by a local pond and catching tadpoles, without a care. Christ is sitting with me, making insignificant comments about just small things. I chant Psalm 103, which I love so much, and ask the Lord to renew in me His own love for the created world.

My soul, give thanks to the Lord
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings.
It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion,
who fills your life with good things,
renewing your youth like an eagle’s…

4 comments on “Regaining wonder with 21 pilots

    • Astounding. I will pass it to her. Their attractiveness to her and her singing friend — attracted by what she called 21’s “clean honesty about life” — was just thrown into a new light. Thank you, Brandon! WOF rocks.

  1. N.O.S.S. says:

    How good is our GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!…

  2. Maureen says:

    Tom,
    Thanks for the encounter with 21 Pilots.. It’s sounds like their music is having a very positive impact on the hearts , minds and souls of this generation…. I thank you too for my encounter with your site (nealobstat)… It’s helping me in my daily conversion!! Your the best! Tell Patti and the children hello. Peace 😊

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