Joy is not made to be a crumb
I keep flipping this Mary Oliver line over and over in my brain like a koan. My first thought was that I loved it because it makes me think of baked goods. But that’s just extra. The whole poem is perfection.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
Mary Oliver was anywaying before most of us were born. The message is simple, of course. The world is crap, seize joy. But I need this beautifully written reminder to not be afraid of life’s plenty. I’m good at leaving the bar before that last regrettable Jägermeister shot. Trick statement. All Jägermeister shots are regrettable.
We are always in a hurry in the morning, so what’s one more family dance party tune? Life is fickle and people are mowed down. My cousin Deborah’s wonderful Bulgarian dance teacher was struck dead by lightning, even though well-minded minders tell us such things never happen. So when the moment is full of the literal crumbs (bread and cereal all over my son’s face) of joy, I want to say yes, Teddy, we can squeeze in one more dance before school! I need this koan to remind me to do so.
So much of my climate lament has been endless variations upon the theme of ‘we are not wise.’ But seeking to rectify that shouldn’t preclude me from savouring all the joy I can soak into my bones, right? We can be foolish and still savour the crumbs. My niece Dahlia is only four and yet so wise. Walking home from dinner while eating a Kit Kat, she announced to my dad, “I’m savouring it.” She even savours the word savour, drawing it out over a few adorable seconds.
At our office my amazing friend Luke came to speak to us about accessibility. He’s the founder of Stopgap, an organization that has built over 2,000 door ramps across Canada, making businesses and amenities accessible to people who couldn’t otherwise access them. Luke uses a wheelchair after an extreme mountain biking event gone awry. Basic things are much more difficult for him, and yet he’s one of the most hilarious, positive, and generous people you’ll ever meet.
He told us that before his accident he was eating a piece of pie from one plate. Now, he’s eating a different slice on a different plate. He’s not sure if the piece is the same size, but it still tastes delicious, perhaps even more so. And he’s enjoying every last crumb.
This weekend my sister and three of her friends (with a median age of 70 between them!) held a huge music and dance festival in Montreal. It was the culmination of hours upon hours of effort. And it was excellent. Even though we’d been there since 9 a.m., at 2 a.m. I watched my sister laughing and beaming as she danced. It was a perfect vision of a person who recognizes joy and literally leaps to meet it. There may also have been some Slivovitz involved. My point is that there are people who take Oliver’s words to heart all around me. Lightness of spirit.
Does climate grief keep you from fully embracing joy? Are you able to find and relish joy even if we’re a deeply foolish species? Hope so. Send me your joyful crumbs if you’re so inclined.
Bill McKibben in The New Yorker on following.the.money.
The new face of climate activism is young, angry - effective in Vox.