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Discovering The Book of Delights Amidst a Pandemic

Spring 2020—a few precious slashes of sun breaking up the rain, green crocus shoots shy in the mud. Before they could bloom, before the ground was fully thawed, the coronavirus pandemic changed our world forever. 

    In the third month of quarantine, I noticed The Book of Delights, unread for months on my bedside table. Delight, a word far from my mind in those days, struck me. A word encompassing petty joys as well as something deeper, more primal. A pleasure that lights the spirit. Without a commute, no dinner dates or bar crawls, time stretched itself out again, languid as a cat in the sun. Winding walks through my neighborhood couldn’t still my mind. I had a feeling I would find what I was looking for in Ross Gay’s slim volume, and I found it right in the introduction—a philosophy of delight, a training manual for your “delight muscle,” as Gay calls it. Once he began looking for delight, he says,

“I felt my life to be more full of delight. Not without sorrow or fear or pain or loss. But more full of delight. I also learned this year that my delight grows—much like love and joy—when I share it.”

Since I had nothing else to attend to except the roiling anxiety of an empire in decline, I set about getting intimate with my senses again, with The Book of Delights as my guide. Gay’s noticing activated my own, helped me settle back into my body. Below are some of my favorite of Gay’s Delights, interspersed with a few of my own.

Photo of a preying mantis perched atop someone's hand.

This mantis has been my companion for the last twenty minutes, this whole break in my afternoon, edging closer to me, dancing, then scooting closer still. And when I sit back in my chair, the mantis pulls its head over the glass to see me (am I being egocentric?), swaying as it does so. Dancing.”

With planes absent from the sky, I miss airports. Or, I miss feeling like I have a reason to be here. At an airport, everyone is vital—needed, summoned, journeying, in motion. Off to the next thing. Valid. A liminal space, full of possibility. Going away. Coming back.

Once I saw a hummingbird perusing the red impatiens outside my building at school, and I walked slowly over to the planting, plucked one, and held it in my outstretched hand perfectly still, long enough that at least one student walking my way crossed the street so as not to get too close to me, until the blur of light did in fact dip its face into the meager sweet in my hand.”

Outside, the crows are calling. My first day in Portland—robin’s egg sky, roses at the height of their powers—I found a perfect crow feather lying in the middle of the sidewalk outside my house. The male it seemed to belong to sidled away from me at an angle, croaking—they love their language, little bullies, clever boys. Either he was looking out for me, or I accidentally stole some of his power. During the long, grey Portland winter that feather conjures the bold blaze of the city in June, wreathed in Bleedingheart and Red Columbine, hummingbirds pirouetting from mouth to sweet mouth—and I remember a new cycle is coming. Is always coming. Soon.

Image credits in order of appearance: Gita Krishnamurti, Ali Abdul Rahman, James Wainscoat, Bruno Aguirre.

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