grist

 

Saturday, November 22, 2003
Surely joy is the condition of life.

The line is Thoreau’s, and it has been echoing in my head for these weeks since I finished the Emerson. I don’t know its context—3 steps removed from it, but that has added to its resonance for me. Is it a prayer? An affirmation? A complaint? It seems to shift with the light for me from one to the other of these—as prayer, pointing to the gap between the real and the ideal as a means of drawing the ideal closer; as affirmation (which, given Thoreau’s often vigorous and hopeful language—as often at odds with his difficult problematic and fragrant self, I think is likely), proclaiming his confidence in something that, as experienced, is at best sporadically true—and yet, as the moments of existence when life—Life—is happening, it is perhaps true. Or perhaps it is my own limitations that prevent me from seeing the Joy that is life in its fullness and richness, all of its edges forming beauty rather than incompleteness. This is an easier thing to assert than to feel. Finally, the complaint—despairing rather than hoping at the gap between the ideal and the real (that there is despair behind the act of praying, or not far from it is a thought to chase another time).

I have been much pre-occupied with joy lately—not feeling it and feeling its lack, pursuing it and mulling it in intellectual ways while feeling baffled at how to let it draw near. I feel closed off from it, discreet from it—I can see the elements that could send it coursing through me—the sky filled with geese, taking long minutes to pass over in ungainly rows—and their flight looks clumsy and somewhat desperate, fleeing more than seeking.

I have little children—offered up as great sources of joy—ready, inexhaustible supplies, as they discover the world and themselves in it. And I love them and take pride in and am curious about their progress. My older daughter is just learning to read—picking out words, recognizing more and more every day—then reading whole, simple books by herself, and listening to long chapters of Roald Dahl and Harry Potter and not just letting the words wash over her, but engaged and understanding. My younger is just getting potty-trained, and taking joy in her own growth—on recognizing that she is changing and in control of more of her world than she suspected.

And yet…and yet…I feel held back from it—skittish—skittish to the point where I can’t get away from the word—can’t move past it into a more substantive understanding of where I am in relation to the world. I can imagine it in an intellectual sense, and scheme about it—have ambitions for it—and doubts and dread and hope. But am in some essential sense unmoored to it—I cannot feel my way into it, nor imagine how it is I will feel about events that are only a few moments away—some part of me sits back and takes note that I do not know and is puzzled by it—that small and skittish piece fills it with speculation about what might or might not come to pass, and then is barely able to take in whatever my feeling about it is. It is profoundly odd to stand so obliquely to my self, and despite my skittish grasping, it seems to be a time to rest in this jittery darkness to myself to see what growth will come of it—to rest listening and aware, to take solace in the unfelt, intellectual apprehension that the growth will come—this is not faith, but a lack of options—this may be prayer, however—may be complaint sliding into prayer and despair, and hope, at least, if not faith.

Outside the sun blazes up as an indictment—I feel the world always throwing its blessings at me, and my own insufficiencies pushing them off.



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