Filed away in the back of my mind, in a folder labeled “unsolved mysteries”, is something I once read in a Bible.
Not the Bible, mind you; a Bible. One Bible in particular.
It comes from my last semester in college. My 12th semester, to be precise; I spent a lot of time in college.
College is a weird time, in many ways. Weird sleeping schedules, weird living arrangements, and a far above-average percentage of genuinely weird people doing genuinely weird things. It also has a weird life-cycle: though there are essentially no children and very few adults, every year marks the birth of a new generation, and the average lifespan is only 4 years. After 4 years, almost every person you originally knew is gone. Stay for 6, and you become a 24-year-old geriatric, reminiscing about the good old days that no one else has any memory of, and missing friends who have passed on to the after-college-life and are no longer remembered by anyone else at the school.
Such was the case on that day, half a decade ago. With no job yet lined up, I still, after all that time, did not know specifically what I was going to do with my life. Yet, I could also already see how quickly the world would forget about me and everything I had done. A few short years, the passing of only a couple of generations, and no one would even remember that I had existed.
I was feeling rather pensive about it, as I took a break in a formal living room inside one of the halls on campus. I must have really been looking for a distraction, because I found myself perusing the titles on the bookshelves that lined one wall. The books were there mostly for ambiance; they were all old, serious-looking volumes that apparently the main library on campus had no use for. Nor did anyone else have any use for them; old encyclopedias and out-of-date textbooks have little appeal as light reading materials, and as actual references they had long been supplanted by the internet. They were the forgotten, vestigial remains of educations past, and they knew it.
Among the A’s and the Q’s and the anthropology anthologies, one book did catch my eye. It was a Bible. A plain, brown Bible, “placed by the Gideons”, those mysterious elves who sneak in at night and hide free Bibles in your nightstand drawer. It seemed out of place, honestly, because this was a secular state university. I hadn’t expected the school to put out Bibles for the students. And maybe they didn’t; no one ever uses these books, so anyone could add to or subtract from the collection and not have anyone notice the change for years, if not forever.
Anyway, for some reason I picked up the Bible, and opened it to the first page. The very first page, inside the cover, on which was an index of selected verses with the headline “Help in Time of Need”. Between the two columns, written vertically, someone had jotted down three words: “Do a wonderful.”
Being a grammar Nazi, this immediately grabbed my attention, because it was an incomplete sentence. Where is the rest of it? I turned to the next page; nothing was written. I checked the last page: blank. I flipped through all the pages in between, but there were no other handwritten notes or markings of any kind. Someone had written “Do a wonderful”, sideways, on the first page, and then stopped.
This intrigued me. Why would anyone do this? What could it mean? I tried to conjure up conspiracy theories: the possibility of a secret code, hidden connections to the verses listed on the page, Tom Hanks in a bad haircut looking over my shoulder.
Mostly, I wondered what the rest of that sentence could possibly be.
See, “Do a wonderful”, by itself, does not mean anything in a literal sense, because a “wonderful” is not something you can “do”. “Wonderful” is just a description. An adjective. There is no such thing as “a wonderful”, just as there is no such thing as “a fancy” or “a hot”. You can have or do something that one of those words describes; you can have a hot cup of coffee, for instance, or you can do a fancy dance move (I can’t, but maybe you can). “Wonderful” can describe things, and you can do a wonderful something. But a wonderful what?
Usually, when anyone writes anything, they intend it to mean something. I’ve never personally just jotted down strings of totally unrelated words to pass the time, even when trying to pad the length of an essay paper. Likewise, whoever wrote those three words down had something in mind, and barring sudden death or the world’s most extreme case of ADHD, that person actually intended to stop after “wonderful”. Why? What was the message?
Better yet, was there a reason I had found that message? It was a coincidence of extreme proportions that, out of a million pages on that bookcase—most of them never read—I would happen to pick out one page, and have it be the one on which someone had written this cryptic message. That it would be in an out-of-place Bible, of all books, on a page labeled “Help in Time of Need”. That the only reason I even looked at it is because I was, in a way, searching for guidance.
If it was a message, if it did have a meaning, then the lack of an object was intentional. I began to look at it as a motto: sort of like Nike’s “Just do it”, where the “it” could be anything that you want to “do”. But, instead of simply “doing it”, this one poses a challenge: do something wonderful. And that’s a very difficult thing to do.
“Wonderful” has a rather specific connotation. It might seem to be just another stop on the continuum of positive adjectives, somewhere between “good”, “excellent”, and “super-dee-duper”. However, there is a big difference between “excellent” and being, literally, “full of wonder”. Look up the word in a dictionary or thesaurus, and you’ll see it described in ways like “marvelous”, “amazing”, and “astonishing”. Or—and this is what really sets the word apart—it is used specifically to refer to things that defy or transcend what is natural: “miraculous”. “Strange”. “Far superior to anything formerly recognized or foreseen.” “An event inexplicable by the laws of nature.”
Doing something wonderful does not come naturally. It does not come from doing your best at something, from being successful, or from winning. It comes from doing something unnatural. Supernatural. Something that does not really make sense inside the framework of normal human motivations or efforts, and at least hints at the divine: that the only way I could have, or at least should have, done this is if I’m working on a different playing field. That I am doing it for rewards or reasons that lie somewhere other than this life, and quite possibly had “outside help”, so to speak. And that, if not “miraculous”, that I am at least quite a bit “strange”.
Have I done this? Essentially, no. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that could be classified as truly “wonderful”, and I think that very few people ever do. The reason I am writing this now is actually because of the way “Do a wonderful” has completely failed to haunt me. I’ve conveniently forgotten about it most of the time, for years at a time. Though I intend that to change, I’m still not sure, even now, how to go about doing something wonderful. It might not even be something that is up to me, beyond being willing and open to do what it takes, or be utilized in that way. But I figure making it public is a good place to start.