One of the classes I teach has a very specific subject matter: it relates to a singular insurance policy that is available only to homeowners in certain counties in Mississippi. When I teach this class, I tell a joke that may or may not be funny. (Stay with me a moment, I have to set up a joke that happens naturally in real life.) One of the things I teach them can be covered by this policy is damage due to a volcanic eruption. And it strikes me as funny that this would be a thing in Mississippi, and that used to be the joke—until one adjuster informed me that there is, in fact, a volcano beneath the city of Jackson, though it is believed to have been extinct for many millions of years. So now, the joke is no longer that one of the eight things the policy covers is a thing that doesn’t even exist, but that it is a thing that there is only a gazillion-to-one chance of happening, except that (and here’s the joke) … it’s 2020, so the volcano will probably resurrect and we should be sure to read up on the coverage.
We’re halfway through 2020 and, so far, there has been no volcanic activity in Jackson, Mississippi. (That we know of.) But we are neck deep into a global pandemic. Unemployment has reached catastrophic levels. Issues of racial injustice have sparked global protests (while we are still neck deep into a pandemic on that same globe). The stock market crashed. Brush fires in Australia destroyed tens of millions of acres and millions of animals. The UK exited the EU. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex left the palace. There’s more, of course. We’ve reached an unprecedented use of the word unprecedented.
This is the worst possible time for me to suggest to you that you might like to exercise your “delight muscle.”
Or is it, rather, the best?
Poet Ross Gay set out a few years ago to write, each day for a year, an essay about “something delightful.” He had a few simple rules for this experiment, which included writing the delights quickly and writing them by hand. He reflects on how the development of this practice led to the growth of a sort of “delight radar.” He noted that “the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.” In these days when it can be an act of great bravery to turn on the news or log on to your laptop, perhaps tuning our “delight radar” can be one means to balance out the other sights and sounds, casualties and costs of our present moment.
I heard the other day on a podcast that I listen to that we can’t “meditate this away,” though we can use certain practices to keep ourselves grounded and centered. Gay found that in this practice of delight, the casualty and cost did not cease to exist, but delight could still be a counterweight.
A month or two into this project delights were calling to me: Write about me! Write about me! Because it is rude not to acknowledge your delights, I’d tell them that though they might not become essayettes, they were still important, and I was grateful to them. Which is to say, I felt my life to be more full of delight. Not without sorrow or fear or pain or loss. But more full of delight. I also learned this year that my delight grows—much like love and joy—when I share it.”
In July, we’ll be delighting in The Book of Delights together. We invite you to pick up this book and join us in some delights of your own.
Our conversation will focus on just two or three essayettes each time, drawn from the following sections:
July 15: Ch. 1-34
July 22: Ch. 35-68
July 29: Ch. 69-102
In August, Laura Boggess will lead us in a community reading of Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakeable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness by Rick Hanson. Resilience is a quality that is important not just in crisis, but in everyday living. Combining neuroscience, mindfulness and psychology, Hanson works toward development of “twelve vital inner strengths hardwired into your own nervous system” to learn how to cope and thrive.
Finally, in September, Callie Feyen will take us to the theatre with Sonia Barkat for Winter Stars: Three 10-Minute Plays: From Tragedy to Fantasy to Comedy. These compact little plays carry deep truths we’ll explore together.
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Photo by sagesolar, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Will Willingham.