I woke up early today, looked out the window and saw an orange Waning Crescent moon rising through the trees. How do you go back to sleep after seeing something like that? I re-read this Jack Gilbert poem in the dark, debating the time, and finally got up to make something of the day.
“We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”
There is no delight in listening to the outraged, but it seems that some people prefer it. The world can indeed be a ruthless furnace, but you can know that and work to make it less ruthless and get along quite well in this world. I’m inclined to avoid the people shouting about the furnace from the pulpit, on social media or at the roundtable on your preferred flavor of 24 hour news.
I’ll risk delight, thank you. That’s not sticking your head in the sand, it’s choosing not to dwell on the misery. There’s no doubt the world is teetering on the brink of chaos: climate change, pandemics, the three amigos of Trump and Boris Johnson and Putin, scandals and scarcity and millionaire sports stars playing in other cities than the one you want them to play in. But there’s also no doubt that the world is better in many ways than it’s ever been. You think we have problems? Read some detailed history from the 16th or 17th century. We have it pretty easy by comparison. The furnace of this world is ruthless, and deserves our attention. But it’s so much better than it was 78 years ago, or 102 years ago, and can be better still.
“If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit that there will be music despite everything.”
Fight the good fight, but don’t forget to dance too. I think if people danced more they’d have less of an excuse to be angry all the time. Go on, turn up the music and move. You know you want to. You can watch the news tomorrow, it’ll still be the same mind game horror show. Or maybe skip it then too.
“We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over the tiny island…
to hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.”
– Jack Gilbert, A Brief For The Defense
I’m not naive, I know that none of us get out of this alive. I know there is suffering and sadness and struggle in the world. Life isn’t fair and is often unjust. But, to make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil… no, I’ll take stubborn gladness, thank you. I’ll take solace in routine and purpose in pursuit, delight in the magic of being alive, and joy in music. The quiet magic of listening to the thump, plunk and squeak of oars in a dark harbor or watching a rising moon when the world is asleep. I’ll risk delight, despite everything. And you? Want to dance?