It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delights, the more delight there is to study.”
The Book of Delights, Ross Gay
“OMZ! Don’t look now, but that woman behind you is amazing!”
I was sitting with my friend outdoors at a local French café. Zeba, my favorite and only Z friend, is four feet eleven inches of pure delight. She popped into my life right after Mom died and is one of those rare friends who can make you love who you are when you are with them. We had been discussing a book I just finished reading, The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. It was selected as the annual Portland City-Wide Read and the reviews were outstanding. It did not disappoint.
As I described Gay’s work documenting his delights over the course of a year, I couldn’t help but notice the delightful woman sitting behind us that day. Hair frozen into perfect 50s style curls, Sunday’s best attire (on a Thursday nonetheless), rosy rouged cheeks, hands folded daintily one on top of the other in her lap covered by a perfectly pressed pencil skirt, with legs crossed at the ankles barely kissing the ground with the tips of her tiny toed pumps. Her class and impeccable style reminded me of my grandmother. This woman decided to truly show up to tea with her friend that day. I hoped her friend appreciated the effort as much as I did.
Zeba promptly produced something that needed to be carried to the trash can so she could sneak a closer look. She agreed. Absolute delight.
Blissful interruptions ran rampant throughout the remainder of our conversation. Birds gathered around our feet to capture buttery croissant crumbs, babies giggled as young moms tickled their toes, and sunlight hit Z’s hair just so as to reflect auburn, gold and chestnut brown. The point is, during an ordinary coffee on just another pandemic infused day we were surrounded by delightful details.
In his book, Gay describes the development of a delight muscle. I love this analogy as much as I love George Saunders’ reference to muscular kindness. The juxtaposition of strong or tough with soft and kind has always resonated with me. The idea of muscle also implies that it can be flexed, trained, strengthened through regular use. And isn’t that the case with noticing the beauty around us? The more we see, the more we see.
Throughout the pandemic and other recent life events, it can be easy to focus on what we don’t have or what could be missing. I consider my delight muscle essential to keep me noticing the ordinary beauty surrounding me every day. What we focus on expands.
Since reading Gay’s book I have started a delight diary of my own.
The freckles on my daughter’s nose (her Gammie called them angel’s kisses).
My dog’s dramatic yawns when I dare to wake him too early.
An iced oat milk latte on a warm Spring day.
The mysterious owl perched above the moonlit trail on my night walks.
Author Tara Schuster reminds us that “life is not a series of crises to be endured. Life is to be enjoyed.” I take this statement to also mean that life is not meant to be enjoyed only on a fancy vacation or during an elaborately orchestrated life event. It is meant to be enjoyed and delighted in on a daily basis— from the birds singing at first daybreak to the comfort of a warm cup of tea held between two cold hands. We can balance both joy and sorrow without needing to wait for one to pass to notice the other. On my saddest, heaviest days, delight can deflect dread.
** Photo: me with Zeba at a drum journey (DELIGHT) pre-Covid era.