Thursday, March 30, 2023

March 30: "Don't Hesitate," Experience Joy, Gorge Yourself

Mary Oliver gives some advice . . . 

Don't Hesitate

by:  Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don't hesitate.  Give in to it.  There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be.  We are not wise, and not very often kind.  And much can never be redeemed.  Still, life has some possibility left.  Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches and power in the world.  It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins.  Anyway, that's often the case.  Anyway, whatever it is, don't be afraid of its plenty.  Joy is not made to be a crumb.

My favorite line in that whole stunning poem:  "Joy is not made to be a crumb."

I think that most people think of joy as something rare, like seeing the aurora borealis in a midnight sky or an albino skunk.  We don't know what to do when joy descends on us, because it feels alien.  I know that, when I experience any type of happiness, I'm always waiting for mayhem to come knocking on the door.

Maybe it's a matter of not feeling like I've earned the right to be happy or experience joy.  I was brought up by parents who believed in hard work.  From a very young age, I was taught that nothing in life was free.  As a cradle Catholic, I was spoon-fed guilt along with my strained carrots and peas.  Happiness comes after a whole lot of hard work, like planting and tending a garden all summer, waiting for the harvest in autumn.

Yet, I know that joy isn't some kind of divine reward.  God doesn't look down from on high and say, "Wow, Saint Marty worked his ass off this week.  I'm going to send him a little something special today."  That's not the way the universe works.  If it did, we'd all be Pavlov dogs, performing tasks to receive crumbs of joy to drool over.

That isn't joy.  Joy, as Oliver says, comes quickly, unexpectedly.  When it appears, there are two choices:  grab it with both hands and enjoy every moment of it; or shut the door, turn off the lights, and wait for it to disappear.  Too often, I've done the latter.  Because it's hard for me to trust in joy.  Just like there can't be light without dark, there can't be joy without sadness and grief.  They can't be separated.

The question then becomes whether or not joy is worth the sadness and grief.  That's the price you pay.  If you love someone deeply, you accept the 100% probability that you will lose that person eventually (or that person will lose you).  There's no way around that.  

Oliver says that joy happens when love begins, and I agree with her advice:  don't be afraid of joy.  Sit down at the table and eat all you can.  Gorge yourself on it.  Joy isn't about crumbs.  It's about heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and slabs of turkey (or beef or chicken or ham).

Here is my joy for today:  I sat on my couch this evening with my dog.  She hunkered down on her blankets, curled into a comma, and fell asleep.  It was the first time I've seen her really relax since she was attacked last weekend.  She grunted and groaned and snored and twitched.  As I watched her, scratched her slumbering back, I thought of how close we came to losing her, and there it was:  joy and despair.  Two sides of the coin.

Saint Marty embraced this plenty and gave thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment