I just bought a pineapple. That in itself is not a major achievement. But it becomes something extraordinary when you consider that I left the grocery store and carried the pineapple two blocks back to my apartment in the snow. It snowed three inches the other day in New York, and winter is not for another five weeks.
That you can get a pineapple in the middle of November in New York doesn’t strike many people as odd or even interesting. After all, capitalism and trade have made all sorts of goods and services available to nearly everyone. That’s a good thing. If you wanted, you could get roses from Chile, Brussels sprouts from California, and cod fish from Vladivostok simply by walking into your neighborhood supermarket. At worst, you’d have to order them online, but then Amazon is working on a delivery system that practically fillets the cod for you by the time you get home from work.
And have you seen the produce section at Safeway lately? It looks like the Garden of Eden minus the wandering jaguars and birds-of-paradise.
Like Henry Higgins, I am a compassionate man, so I won’t bore you about how convenience–consumerism–has desensitized us to the wonder of eating a pineapple in November. However, I did see a scene on Netflix recently in which one of the Catholic monarchs of Spain, who sponsored Columbus’ voyages, cuts into a pineapple and is pleasantly surprised. At first, he is as bewildered as Woody Guthrie in a scene from an older movie in which Guthrie first comes across an artichoke plant in California. Both pineapple and artichoke look like they came from Venus. They still do. It is beyond debate that capitalism has provided incredible things to make life easier, safer, and more interesting, not that I would stand on line overnight to get the latest iPhone. In fact, I’m still using a 5s, which provides endless fun for certain techies I know.
Leonard Read captured the genius of capitalism via the price system in a famous essay entitled “I Pencil” (1958). Read pointed out that no one knows how to make a pencil. We have to rely on the expertise and good will of people we have never met and most likely never will meet. Milton Friedman made much hay of this years later. Of course, this is true. I don’t know how a toilet bowl works let alone my laptop. For the latter, I rely on engineers, designers, and others. However, I still reserve the right to complain about the stupidity of blow dryers in the Men’s Room. I’d like to meet the guy who thought that up.
And forget socialism. It’s sins should be obvious to all but the most ideological, most of whom are too young to know better and ought to be forgiven, or too old to admit they are wrong. As Jesus said on the cross, “non sanno quello che fanno” (They know not what they do). He didn’t actually say it in Italian, but that’s how it comes out in my parish.
It is true that we have lost our sense of wonder. I was reminded of this once when I saw a young boy at Columbus Circle jumping up and down in awe at the horses drawing carriages around Central Park. At first I thought he was acting out, but then I realized he was pointing to something incredible that the rest of us–adults–have become so accustomed to that we hardly notice unless we step in a pile of horse dung. He was right. There were horses, of all things, on the street clop, clop, clopping along with taxis, automobiles, trucks, and buses. How did that happen? Who would have thought? Could anything be more incongruous?
Wonder is related to marvel, which comes from Latin (mirabilia). It means to look or stare at things. Whenever someone says to you, “Whadda you lookin’ at?”, that’s wonder. Thomas Aquinas believed wonder is the source of philosophy, which begins with inquiry. In commenting on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, he said that philosophers and poets are similar in that both are “big with wonder.” Being “big with wonder” is a necessary step in attaining wisdom.
There’s an added benefit to being big with wonder. It makes you feel alive and grateful. For instance, you can’t walk down a snow covered street with a pineapple under your arm and not be joyful. It’s just not possible.
Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli. Feature image by Fancycrave.com from Pexels; middle and bottom images by Pineapple Supply Co. from Pexels. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance. This one is for Mike McGowan: roommate, runner, reefer man extraordinaire.