As I celebrate my 40th birthday, the main emotion I feel is one of astonishment. This Saturday, my family and I went to Space Center Houston to meet with some dear friends who had come to visit on my birthday. They did this by flying with their three children, two other friends and their two children on a giant metal cigar tube that weighs several tons but can still generate enough thrust and lift to fly from San Diego to Houston in a matter of hours. My friends are not wizards or dragon riders, nor are they royalty or members of the 1% elite who might be expected to pay for such miracles. No, they are just regular citizens, and, somehow, nine of them were able to fly across the United States in a weekend (they flew from Houston back home to Atlanta). This we accept as a matter of course.

I go through my life like an unfrozen caveman, in a constant state of amazement. The flight from San Diego was, perhaps, the least astonishing part of the day. We were, after all, visiting a museum that commemorated the fact that human beings have not only flown, and not only flown into SPACE, but have also LANDED ON THE FREAKING MOON! This utterly incomprehensible feat was accomplished less than 66 years after the Wright brothers first flew in Kitty Hawk. Now there are plans to send a manned mission to Mars by around 2030. Like, with actual human beings and not just Matt Damon playing pretend. Which is 13 years away. Of course, there is the small matter of keeping humans alive and healthy for the 2 to 3 year voyage to the Martian surface, but the NASA folks seem no more concerned about this than we might be about navigating road construction. MARS!

They have the original Saturn V Rocket displayed there at the Space Museum. The Saturn V was the rocket that the lunar capsule sat atop as it was blasted from earth into orbit. It is stored in a giant warehouse laid down on its side. This is because it is 363 feet tall. This is about 60 feet taller than the statue of liberty, and I’ll let you calculate how many football fields it is. Even on its side it towers over you on account of its 30-foot diameter. As we walked around it, I found myself wondering just how much metal there is in the earth, because it all appeared to have been melted, folded, and shaped to make this one Saturn V Rocket. “Sorry, kids, no more soda cans. It was either go to the moon or have any other metal things on earth. We didn’t have enough metal for both.” Of course, this is silly, but these are the thoughts you have in the presence of something so astonishing. And, that’s before you find out that they used over 200,000 gallons of kerosene and 300,000 gallons of liquid oxygen in STAGE ONE of the three-stage rocket, and you begin to wonder how someone even makes one gallon of liquid oxygen, much less 300,000 gallons, and you don’t even want to know about stages two and three because by now your brain has shut down and is leaking out of your ears.

This is pretty much a daily occurrence for me. It takes far less than manned space flight to completely astound me. Something as simple as a meal can do it. Have you ever been just eating dinner in a restaurant and you begin to think about the fact that you are eating a part of some animal you’ve never seen that was probably raised hundreds of miles from where you are now sitting and dining on it, and it’s being served with broccoli that’s probably from Guatemala or somewhere, and, maybe later, you’ll have some sort of decadent dessert with cacao beans from, like Columbia, and sugar from, what, Hawaii or something, and that’s been made by a professional exercising the mastery of millennia of cooking expertise because somehow someone figured out a long time ago that if you mixed really bitter cacao with milk and sugar it made just about the best thing on earth, and somehow, you are the recipient of this bounty even though you are not, again, royalty or a celebrity or anything, but just some schmuck? Well, you probably don’t think of these things because you are normal and well-adjusted, but I do, and, whoops, there goes my brain melting again and leaking out of my ears.

Or, how about this? We were keeping the two sons of another set of dear friends a few weeks ago as they were in Europe (the friends, not the sons). This time we’ll pass over the whole thing about normal people flying to Europe, but, c’mon! No, the thing that got the synapses in a tizzy for me was that, on a nearly daily basis, we would face time with them, and – presto! – there they were, inside our phones talking to their kids from the other side of the world in real time like its some sort of magic mirror. This, when the phone was not streaming music or video or checking email or surfing the internet or playing an app or doing a million other things because it’s about 1,000 times more powerful than the computing systems that, again, we used to put actual human beings on the actual moon. And all of this incomprehensible magic is so small that it fits in your pocket and so affordable that most of the 7 billion or so people on earth have one of these things? I’m really supposed to believe this is actual life and not a crazy fever dream?

Our world is utterly beyond comprehension. You know about blue whales, right? They can be over 100 feet long and weigh over 150 tons. You do know that a ton is 2,000 pounds, right? So, that’s, what, 300,000 pounds? This is one living mammal, not, like, the population of Belize or something! Their tongue can weigh as much as an elephant. As in, the largest land mammal in the world is this thing’s tongue. Their heart weighs about as much as a Mini Cooper and can be detected from two miles away. A human being can easily crawl through its arteries ( I mean, they could if the arteries weren’t full of blood and totally gross, but you get the idea). And, they reach this massive size eating tiny krill which are less than an inch long because of course they do.

Of course, that’s just one animal. If you really want to liquefy the old brain, you can start thinking about the size of the universe or the size of the microverse, and you will start just kind of staring into space and shaking your head pretty quickly. I could start throwing statistics at you, but just do a Google search for the “scale of the universe” and check out the website that comes up and don’t be surprised when you wake up a week later with a growth of beard and a pungent body aroma.

But, this is just one of about infinity things about the world that I find to be just about infinitely interesting. I discovered some years back that Amazon will let you make a wish list of things you’d like to buy or check out some time in the future, which sounds wonderful, but the thing is that now I have over 1,000 items on my list and I’m not even exaggerating a bit. Though the small part of my brain that is still capable of rational thought realizes that, if I lived to be 440, I would not be able to read or listen to or watch all of these things, the part of my brain that gets excited and chases shiny things keeps finding new, interesting things to add to the list. And that part of my brain is sad that I will probably never truly find the time to really understand or appreciate jazz or the novels of John Dos Passos or why Mondrian is art and not just some guy drawing boxes. Mostly because I will spend that time watching baseball or playing Civilization or doing some other time-wasting thing that is also astonishing and incomprehensible in its own way.

And, somehow, more astonishing than all of these are the real-life flesh-and-blood human beings that are an actual, non-virtual, part of my life. The amazing friends from throughout my life who take the time to wish me happy birthday even though, in some cases, I haven’t seen them in literally 20 years. My utterly astonishing and flabbergasting children who continue to learn and grow and have personalities and senses of humor even though just yesterday we saw them for the first time on the ultrasound. My big man, Geoffrey, who, though we share the same brain and have the same mood swings and grouchiness, somehow knows more about coral reefs than I ever have and can count well past 100 and can spell his name and all the names and knows the name of ever truck ever and is the smartest, goofiest, sweetest boy there ever was. And my little guy, Joseph, who is just a force of nature and curiosity who will find all the markers in your house and write on all the surfaces, but who also, at age two, sings like and angel and knows all the words to all the nursery rhymes, both standard and Builder Goose version.

And my astonishing princess, Jennifer, who not only keeps us all fed and clothed – which would be beyond me – but also finds time to come up with 1,001 activities and crafts and games and puzzles for our boys to do which not only keep them occupied but teach them things and which are why they are the brilliant little guys they are. And who is still amazingly fun and competitive and will absolutely crush you in whatever board game you want to play but you don’t even mind because it’s so much fun. And who always puts her selfish husband’s needs first and goes to boring baseball games and endures sports on television because she is a tremendous wife and mother. And who is so much more than I deserve or could ask for.

Maybe, most of all, I’m astonished that a man with little to no useful skills – seriously, I have a nice jump shot and am able to play a few songs on the guitar; I can neither fight nor flee effectively; I would last about 20 minutes in a zombie apocalypse – somehow has a nice, air-conditioned home, enough clothes that he has to donate some of them periodically, waaaaay to much food, and owns not one, but, two automobiles that not only drive at insane speeds but also play music and are themselves air-conditioned. All of this after most human beings in history considered it a good day if they did not starve or get smallpox or have to fight in a war. Why should this man, who knows very well the selfishness, fear, greed, and laziness of his own heart, nevertheless receive the boundless grace of God and the endless blessings of His creation, to enjoy freedom, prosperity, and opportunity that, again, most human beings in history could not even have conceived of? Why should he be the recipient of such copious blessings that he cannot seriously consider them without welling over with tears of gratitude and astonishment? These things are the most astonishing of all.