I just reread C.S Lewis’ masterpiece “Surprised by Joy” yet again this summer. The first time I read it was in college. I remember feeling so relieved that I wasn’t the only one who had experienced unlooked for moments of transcendence that took one’s breath away. I had thought there was something odd about me. I began to embrace the idea that we ALL have these moments. “Joy was not a deception”.
In the next years as I embraced the okay-ness of this transcendence, I began to search for it, but it was ephemeral and elusive. I remember experiencing it when I made my professional debut as soloist in the “Resurrection Symphony” (No.2) of Gustav Mahler. Something quite beyond my control happened when, I went from terrified with stage fright, to stepping aside and letting the song pass through me as a vessel. In fact, I barely remember singing. It wasn’t me that had caused people to come backstage in tears. I KNEW this beyond any doubt. They had experienced something for which I was just the channel.
Another time, I was walking in the woods of Montana, on a retreat, when suddenly a deer came crashing through the underbrush. I don’t know what prompted me but in order to communicate with it I began singing…the music of Bach which is the music of the spheres and the music of Mozart which opens the mind to spatial relationships. That deer set itself down by a nearby rock and for about 20 minutes just listened to me. It was astonishing. After I was done and it had left the rock, I went to sit under a tree to think about this extraordinary experience. And there, just under where my palm rested on the ground, was a jaw bone. It was a deer jaw bone. A gift. Breathtaking. Joy.
Among my top joyful, yet bittersweet experiences, was when I buried my beloved cat in the park by the “Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge” (the GW Bridge in NYC). I planted wildflowers on top of her grave and everyday that summer walked down there to see if anything had bloomed. Not much bloomed there that summer. As Fall and Winter came, I visited less often since 9/11 had happened and there was a big police presence under the bridge. Then on Christmas Eve of that year, my then boyfriend spontaneously said “Let’s go visit the grave and let’s bring some of those fresh baked chocolate chip cookies” We trudged down not expecting to get beyond the police guard, but miraculously, a bit of explanation and some chocolate chip cookies opened the way past the police. As we went to the gravesite, we were both speechless! There, in the December frost, on the grave was blooming Queen Anne’s Lace, the only wildflower blooming out of a variety mix that I had planted the past summer. My cat’s name was Regina, which means “queen” in Italian! My then boyfriend, who was a New York City native, could barely speak. “In all my years”. he said, “I’ve never seen wildflowers bloom in NYC in winter!” Joy welled up, surprised us both and we wept with wonder.
My intention in recent years has been to consciously choose Joy. To not only be surprised by it but to look for the joyful aspect in every moment. Lately, this has been particularly challenging, as pressures from getting my Texas land fenced and well dug, getting my Georgia home landscaped, running a mid-sized business. standing by as a business colleague and relatively young woman died of brain cancer have taken their toll.
It’s at these times I re-read one of my favorite passages in C.S. Lewis’ book. “Joy was not a deception. Its visitations were rather the moments of clearest consciousness we had, when we became aware of our fragmentary and phantasmal nature and ached for that impossible reunion which would annihilate us or that self-contradictory waking which would reveal, not that we had had, but that we were a dream.” He then concludes,” (Joy)…was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.”
I, consciously, choose Joy. I choose that signpost. If you are “surprised by joy” you are so very blessed. If you choose Joy…you are so very blessed.