‘Joy is Such a Human Madness’ is one of the titles of Ross Gay’s essays in his recent book, The Book of Delights. And this I believe sums up this exquisite book. Amongst the madness and suffering of this world, there still exists delight, accumulated and witnessed here in these powerful and delightful essays. Please don’t be fooled Gay does not fling at us romantic notions of positivity, the nauseating cliché about glasses being half full, half empty; but writes with a keen sense of light and darkness; a sharp sense of sorrow in regards to this fucked up and gorgeous world. Gay does not dismiss the complexities such as ‘the terror of being a black man in America or the ecological violence of consumer culture or the loss of friends and family.’ It is all there and so is his whimsical glorious graceful ability to write a book of delights.
Could this be a sign?
While reading Gay’s rules for writing these essays I was quickly reminded of a writing project I contemplated while journeying with my dad as he laboured towards his death; a set of essays that did not only hold the deep deep sorrow of Dad leaving us but also the moments of such exquisite delight in the time we still had left with him.
Gay’s rules: 1) Write a delight every day for a year (I wrote every day for five months while dad was dying and documented such hard and beautiful moments); 2) Draft them quickly, write them by hand (I am an addicted journal writer by hand; fast and feverish). 3) Begin and end on August 1st. (Dad died on August 1st 2020) Could this be a sign? A calling forward? A summoning? Permission?
A Sample of this Potential Summoning
Dad took his last breath after his last shave. “He was waiting for his shave,” Janet crying on the phone, minutes after he died. Dad teetering on a spider web thread between life and death. Me asking one of the personal support workers if she knew the signs of death. Her face from cheer to fear, “Oh no! Only God knows.”
Dad’s God wanted him clean shaven. Or maybe the shave distracted him from holding on to that spider line of life so he could slip away in a state of delight. A video of Dad shaving three months before he died and the day after he suffered with nightmares, physical pain and a deep restlessness.
The buzz of the electric razor like a community of hummingbird wings
“Dad you ever hear the song “never give the power to a bald head?
A song by Jacob Miller.
Oh go on.
So it’s the Pope’s fault?
Me laughing hysterically
You never trusted those guys did you? he says
Me laughing hysterically
Did you trust them dad?
Well they had a job to do.
I think your finished that side dad (his cheek red like a rasberry)
Your going to take your whole face off dad
Ok there is a little piece of hair under your lip. Or you could leave that there, I say.
Oh no. oh no. I never trusted those guys. How long have I known you maureen?
So you think I’m younger?
Younger than me.
Ok dad say goodbye
The video ran for 6 minutes and 33 seconds with other delightful memory exchanges…
Could I write a book of delights based on the journey of dad’s dying? So many pop into my head; like the indigenous woman singing in the stairwell of the cancer ward. She and her mobile IV stuck in the middle of two floors belting out Sinead O’connor’s Nothing Compares to You. Music my medicine, she said. Cancer in liver and stomach, she said.
A young woman singing the Rocky theme song to her Aunty on a stretcher going in for an operation. Same woman that night crying into the phone, “Its everywhere, the cancer is everywhere.”
Me, mom, dad chilling in dad’s hospital room, me djing their fav songs crackling: Rose, Rocky Mountain High , Sunshine on my Shoulders, The Way We Were, Day O, a circle of three with and no distracting tv in the background like back home.
Me going on and on to mom about non-attachment. Somedays Dad was up and in the chair and greeting with such fervor and delight “What you bring me today kiddo?” Or two hours later startled from sleep gasping for air; or the next day his mouth popping open for butterscotch pudding; or calling out for more blankets, less blankets, buzzing the red emergency bell frantically.
I am learning about non attachment mom.
And shes looking at me like the beginning of a 5,000 piece puzzle, “What the hell are you talking about?”
Or the young black man yelling into the crack of the closing elevator, I love your dreads.” And me turning red and smiling. Or Dad telling me to give each of the care workers $10
Really dad $10?
Or the Elder man smiling, shuffling into Dad’s room with his grandson close behind translating Arabic into English “I am going home today and you will go home soon too. Have faith” Dad grinning behind his sightless eyes.
In truth joy is such a human madness. Thanks Ross Gay for your book that made my belly laugh, my head shake for the madness and my lips curve fervently for the divine writing you share!