Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ode to Joy

I can remember only one occasion that I experienced what I understand to be joy. Not surprisingly, it involves my wife & children.

Fall is a beautiful season here in Greenville; moreso in my woodsy neighborhood. About 9 years ago I stepped out one morning to pick up the paper, stepped out into a perfect muted Fall morning: gently grey sky, leaves past their prime; cool, damp air. Now, I associate with Autumn, not just death in general, but my own death in particular. For decades I've had the expectation that I'll die in late Fall, the cusp of Winter, while reading a book in the bedroom, in a red sweater, with the window open enough to feel the cool air and hear the crows & bluejays complaining. No cancer or y'know, unpleasant stuff. And if I could plan it, the music would be "Beim Schlafengehen" by Richard Strauss.

So I'm out there to get the paper, and am struck that this is one of those dying days. Not a bad feeling: appreciative, reflective (...regrets? I've had a million, but then again, too many to mention...), self-absorbed.

Well. We live near an elementary school, and on this morning my then-8-year-old daughters swept past me on the way to school, turned out by my wife in brown tartan skirts & long hair, pulling their wheeled bookbags, and chatting, as sisters who love each other will do. And in that instant, between the anticipation of death and the sight, no a vision, of my perfect, beautiful daughters, happy & alive in the world that was created for them by the cooperative love of my wife, me, and God, I was jerked out of this world into....joy.

Now joy is a word, an idea, I'd never been comfortable with: it seemed sappy, decontented, glib (I've got joy joy joy joy down in my heart....puh-leez), fake, even. I figured joy was just another way of saying extra happy. But what I experienced for a few seconds that morning was not just being super happy, but another kind of existence, just barely tethered to life as I'd known it thus far.

Let me remember it again: it was so real, more real than what, everyday reality. More than this, as a song says. It was like being knocked silly, being Tasered, I imagine, forgetting to think, a loss of self-awareness, a stupor, but thus being able to experience something way beyond my daily life. To be so stupefied in this world let me half-live in what I believe is the next one. For the few seconds or so it took my daughters to walk down the driveway, time didn't exist. I wasn't even aware of my own existence except as a conduit for an immense and limitless love. And this love-drowning was lifting me out of the world, to where I could love my daughters more. And I could see my wife in them, and loved her, too. I hovered in a perfect, total, continuum of love. For these seconds, I experienced a super-reality of merging with, being subsumed by, infinite love. So intense, like a wire carrying too much current. And lemme tell ya: I liked it.

You know how people will say, "Lord, take me now"? That was me: God, let's go, let life be like this all the time.

I'm reminded of when I was about 4 years old, I couldn't swim in water over my head, and of course fell into water that was....over my head. I was drowning, but didn't know it at the time. What I remember was seeing all the beautiful blue light, how calm, how timeless...then I was yanked out by my vigilant father, and threw up all over Aunt Alma's patio.

  But the girls reached the end of the driveway, and I was Back in the World...where I've been since then without interruption. Yet this glimpse of heaven was a great gift, and those few seconds of almost painful joy I owe to my wife and daughters; and to God, who gave them to me.