I’m running on the trails near my house, loving the beautiful crisp-warm weather, but also feeling irked because people are not giving space on the trails, despite the global pandemic upending life everywhere. As I come up on a pair of hikers headed my direction, I jump off the trail into the undergrowth so they can pass me, my hand balancing on the trunk of a tree. It’s a large evergreen, prevalent around here, its bark thickly ridged and rough. The hikers pass me and I pull my hand away, now feeling the sticky grip of sap. I raise my hand to my nose, even though I know I’m not supposed to, and inhale the spicy, dank smell of pine sap. “Delight!” cries my mind.
Ross Gay spent a year noticing delight, cataloguing his discoveries as micro-essays that eventually became The Book of Delights. As he goes along, Gay stumbles onto all kinds of delights he might not have noticed otherwise. Some delights are memories that arise from other happenings, the memory looping back to make, say, Lisa Loeb’s “Stay,”—”a deliciously corny song”—delightful. Others come from the presentness of children or Gay’s own refusals to be “productive” or “respectable,” or sensual delights like drinking coffee, moisturizing, giving high fives. Many delights arise from Gay’s experience as a black man in America, Gay framing his own delight as a rejection of the prevailing narrative of black suffering and misery.
As Gay goes along, he notices that delight stacks upon delight, as if once you start to notice delight it rewards you through multiplication. He writes that it is the “practice of witnessing one’s delight, daily, which actually requires vigilance. It also requires faith that delight will be with you daily, that you needn’t hoard it. No scarcity of delight.” The dedication to delight becomes a devotion, a communion, a giving up of one’s control to the universe and simply asking, “delight me.”
Like many before me, I thought as I began Gay’s book, “Why, I should also begin to notice and catalogue delight.” And I did. But I then noticed that my delights were quite banal, expected: trees, food, an owl hooting, the moon. Nothing like the poetic, perceptive splendors of Gay’s experience. Which I realized was fine. Delight is delight, it need not be judged and, fortunately, we have Ross Gay to plumb its depth in unique, delightful ways.
It also occurs to me that now—this month, this week, this day, this moment in world history, this instant as I sit on my porch, my feet and the dog lazing in the sun—that delight ought to be cultivated and communed with. Gay writes of:
the existential sorrow we all might be afflicted with, which is that we, and what we love, will soon be annihilated. Which sounds more dramatic than it might. Let me just say dead. Is this, sorrow, of which our impending being no more might be the foundation, the great wilderness?
Is sorrow the true wild?
And if it is—and if we join them—your wild to mine—what’s that?
For joining, too, is a kind of annihilation.
What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying.
I’m saying: What if that is joy?”
And so today, right now, I’m going to send this message from my tin can to yours. I’m sitting here with my fear and my dog and my delight and my sorrow. And I’m going be here in the sunshine, with the growl of motors and the calls of songbirds, and finish the final essayette in Ross Gay’s Book of Delights.
Wheelhouse = Memoirs that make normal experience seem extraordinary