We must risk delight.

In my last newsletter, I shared a poem I came across via the ever-inspiring Jen Hewett, a printmaker and textile artist based in San Francisco. I believe the first time Jen shared it in her newsletter (which I can only highly recommend!) was shortly after last year's US election, and then she re-posted it a few weeks ago.

It stuck with me, and after getting a few emails and messages from lovely people who read it in my newsletter and thanked me for it, I wanted to share it here as well.

It's called "A Brief For The Defense" and is written by the poet Jack Gilbert.  

A Brief For The Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

The part that stuck with me throughout the last months is this one:

"If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world."

To me, this answers a fundamental question: How can we give in to joy, to delight in the face and in spite of everything terrible that is happening in our world? How can we enjoy and even celebrate our successes when so many things are wrong and so many people are suffering? Jack answers this question with a simple "It's your duty." If we don't celebrate our successes, if we don't delight in the beauty of our world, we're "lessen[ing] the importance of their deprivation."

I'm not saying that this means to blindly, mindlessly ignore the suffering that is going on. On the contrary, to me it means being aware of it, doing what we can to lessen it, to help people that are less fortunate than we are, to fight for the causes we want to fight for - and still to allow ourselves joy. To allow ourselves to be glad and thankful for every day that we have, every ray of sunlight that hits our face, every smile from a loved one. To force ourselves to be glad and thankful because we don't know how long this will last. If we, who are so fortunate, are not glad and thankful for what we have and for the joy we experience, aren't we laughing in the faces of the people who are suffering, who hurt? 

I hope this poem can give you the joy and the breath of fresh air that it has brought me. Celebrate. Close your eyes and stand in the sun. Hug.