TUESDAY, JUNE 27, 2023
Sacred Thoreau and his joy: Our view? The New York Times got it right when it signed Margaret Renkl as "a contributing Opinion writer."
Having said that, also this:
Suffering is visible all over the globe. Even so, rightly or wrongly, Renkl's new essay bears an unusual headline:
The Nature of Joy
She's writing about the nature of joy! Right at the start of Renkl's column, she even cites her brother:
The Nature of Joy
NASHVILLE — Thanks to a Covid infection early in the pandemic, my blood pressure goes haywire when the temperature and dew point are both very high, and I have trouble breathing when the air quality is poor, too, so I stay indoors much of the summer now. But last Sunday I woke early to the most beautiful day in the history of the world, as my brother calls every day of his life. All around my yard, the world was renewing itself.
While I was watching the robins from our living-room window, a tiny cottontail emerged from the depths of the pollinator garden. The wee rabbit would take a bite of clover and then leap straight up. It would take a bite of violet and then dash madly around the circumference of the pollinator bed, leaping and twisting in midair.
I can’t tell you how much delight I take in watching a young animal’s deep pleasure in existence, enjoying the power of its beautiful young body in a beautiful old world.
With all the suffering in the world, should Renkl be discussing joy and her ability to take delight in the natural world? Should she be discussing the "deep pleasure in existence" a young animal feels as it explores "a beautiful old world?"
People will judge such questions for themselves. For ourselves, we're glad the Times hired this person.
Regarding Renkl's brother, he is said to call every day "the most beautiful day in the history of the world." To see how he supports that claim, we'll strongly suggest that you click this link, a link his sister provided.
Reading Renkl's latest "guest essay," we thought again of sacred Thoreau, living out by the pond. Even as our struggling nation's Civil War approached, even as so many suffered in bondage, he described an ecstatic delight, perhaps a first cousin to joy:
This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. As I walk along the stony shore of the pond in my shirt sleeves, though it is cool as well as cloudy and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me. The bullfrogs trump to usher in the night, and the note of the whippoorwill is borne on the rippling wind from over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath...
Amid his nation's widespread suffering, should our Middlesex County neighbor have been spending his time on that?
There's no perfect answer to such questions. As always, the quandary rolls on.