All sorrow is, on some elemental level beneath cause and circumstance, an act of forgetting our connection to life, to one another, to the grand interbelonging of existence.
All joy is the act of remembering — the hand outstretched for reconnection, for felicitous contact between othernesses.
This awareness emanates from poet and gardener Ross Gay’s essay collection Inciting Joy (public library) — a tendril unfurled from his infinitely life-affirming Book of Delights.
With an eye to the community orchard he helped create — a “long sweaty collaborative dream” — Gay writes:
Though I didn’t yet have the words for it, planting that orchard — by which I mean… joining my labor to the labor by which it came to be — reminded me, or illuminated for me, a matrix of connection, of care, that exists not only in the here and now, but comes to us from the past and extends forward into the future. A rhizomatic care I so often forget to notice I am every second in the midst of. By which I came to be, and am, at all. Despite every single lie to the contrary, despite every single action born of that lie — we are in the midst of rhizomatic care that extends in every direction, spatially, temporally, spiritually, you name it. It’s certainly not the only thing we’re in the midst of, but it’s the truest thing. By far.
Tapping into that microrhizal mesh that stretches between us — between all of our individual joys and sorrows, lacing them together into an ecology of interdependence — is our surest way of tapping into joy itself. Gay reflects:
My hunch is that joy is an ember for or precursor to wild and unpredictable and transgressive and unboundaried solidarity. And that that solidarity might incite further joy. Which might incite further solidarity. And on and on. My hunch is that joy, emerging from our common sorrow — which does not necessarily mean we have the same sorrows, but that we, in common, sorrow — might draw us together. It might depolarize us and de-atomize us enough that we can consider what, in common, we love. And though attending to what we hate in common is too often all the rage (and it happens also to be very big business), noticing what we love in common, and studying that, might help us survive. It’s why I think of joy, which gets us to love, as being a practice of survival.
This animating spirit of joy as a force-field of connection comes alive in Gay’s poem “Patience” from his altogether vivifying collection Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (public library):
by Ross Gay
Call it sloth; call it sleaze;
call it bummery if you please;
I’ll call it patience;
I’ll call it joy, this,
my supine congress
with the newly yawning grass
and beetles chittering
in their offices
beneath me, as I
nearly drifting to dream
admire this so-called weed which,
if I guarded with teeth bared
my garden of all alien breeds,
if I was all knife and axe
and made a life of hacking
would not have burst gorgeous forth and beckoning
these sort of phallic spires
ringleted by these sort of vaginal blooms
which the new bees, being bees, heed;
and yes, it is spring, if you can’t tell
from the words my mind makes
of the world, and everything
makes me mildly or more
hungry—the worm turning
in the leaf mold; the pear blooms
howling forth their pungence
like a choir of wet-dreamed boys
hiking up their skirts; even
the neighbor cat’s shimmy
through the grin in the fence,
and the way this bee
before me after whispering
in my ear dips her head
into those dainty lips
not exactly like one entering a chapel
as if that wasn’t enough
blooms forth with her forehead dusted gold
like she has been licked
and so blessed
by the kind of God
to whom this poem is prayer.
Complement with Borges on collective joy and collective grief and the remarkable story behind Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” then revisit Ross Gay on what it takes to grow up and what it means to have grown.