Saturday, November 1, 2014

surprised by joy

Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse... withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased... In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else... The quality common to the three experiences... is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction
I call it Joy.
--C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

 If I were king of the world, I would enforce this one rule: no one would be allowed to use the term "Surprised by Joy" unless they had actually read C.S. Lewis' heart-breakingly transcendent spiritual autobiography that takes that phrase as its title. Using phrases without understanding what they mean is about as wise as uttering a spell while ignoring the potential consequences your words could have. In other words: it's very foolish. The phrase "surprised by joy" refers to an experience that is rich, deep, transcendent, and full of the deepest desires of the human race that we try to forget everyday. Imagine if the image that everyone had in their heads when they said "surprised by joy" was the moment they longed for another world but they didn't even know that longing was inside of them until they felt it, raw and deep, pure and strong. Overwhelming and sharp, but over in a flash, leaving them panting with the desire to feel that desire again. The words would be richer, filled with more music and meaning.

But I am not the king of the world. I am just a stubborn and overly opinionated young human who likes to pontificate on matters that are really none of my concern.

So now that we've covered that, back to where I was going at the beginning of this post: I often long to escape into nature (currently reading Walden, which is perhaps a trifle imprudent of me, if I'm hoping to discourage these cravings). But, despite my yearning to find solace in the wonders of waterfalls or forests, I have found that is is truly other humans who bring me the most joy.

I can look at pictures of deep rain forests, the Redwoods of British Columbia, wide open prairie skies, or the Big Sky Country of Montana and think, in the words of Liz Lemon:


I think of how beautiful it would be to be surrounded but nothing but God in the silences and still, small voices of nature. How peaceful I would be in whatever tranquil spot I long for, and how gloriously refreshing and renewing I would find it.

And yet, I find, over and over again, that as refreshing as the silence is, I find true joy in the people around me. Even when I am surrounded by a frustrating, annoying crush of people at rush hour on the 6 train, I find this strange marveling well up inside of me, as the realization hits me that I am surrounded by these eternal creatures of beauty. Even that really annoying man who keeps yelling in a strained, passive aggressive voice: "Move further down into the car, please," and the SoHo fashionistas with pierced noses, pierced ears, and goodness knows what else pierced, titter and launch back, without moving an inch: "There's no space!" Or on the street: when another pedestrian and I make eye contact and smile as we both dash across the crosswalk, trying to beat the yellow light, as it swiftly turns red. Or in a choir, as a choir is a veritable hothouse of personalities.

As much as I imagine that I will find endless peace and happiness beside peaceful waters and in still meadows (and assuredly, whenever I have the chance, I do), there is also so much joy to be found here: here in this Park, with mothers arguing with their children. Here in this school, with students rolling their eyes at their dumb teacher. Here in this house, with humans who are so flawed, so unique, and so unsuspecting of their own radiance and beauty. Each one of them is a sacrament of love.

As I was writing an entry in my journal about the one night we smashed pumpkins off our rooftop (such Halloween hooligans), I was struck by the ease and acceptance at which I wrote down strange new names, that one year ago were never part of my journal entries. And yet now, these names were part of the story of my life. They had their undeniable place in it, and I was writing down these new names, because they belonged on that page, in that story, in my life. I often go back and read my old journals; but I am never allowed to move forward in time and read my journals of the future.

I wonder, if I were able to, what new names and figures I would see written on the pages of my life. That thought alone--that there will come into my life an abundance of new humans, who are now unknown to me, but will one day I will write down their names in my journal without a second thought, because they belong there, that my heart will stretch and grow to accommodate them--fills me with wonder, and yes: joy.

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