The Big Fresh August 11, 2018 Stubborn Gladness
Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.
One of the hardest things about living in truly challenging times is that I’ve lost my sense of how to be in the world. My default attitude has always been enthusiastic optimism, based on a belief that there is almost no problem that can’t be solved with sunny hope and a can-do spirit.
That attitude feels out of place, even wrong these days. If you care about more than the value of your stock portfolio, hardships you see every day in your community are profoundly discouraging. Families are rended by politics, if they even have time to talk about politics while they struggle to get through their days. And I never thought I’d live in a country where teachers have to explain to their school boards why they would prefer not to become armed guards in their classrooms.
When life seems hopeless, reading heals in unexpected ways. Recently I read an essay by Elizabeth Gilbert, “In Praise of Stubborn Gladness,” about writing that influenced her own. She followed the poet Jack Gilbert in an endowed chair at a university. Elizabeth heard from many students about his positive influence and cheery demeanor. Intrigued, she decided to take a deep dive into his writing. What she found in his poetry was a boundless joy rooted in a clear-eyed view of horrors in the world. Elizabeth explains the power in this perspective:
When it comes to developing a worldview, we tend to face this false division: Either you are a realist who says the world is terrible, or a naive optimist who says the world is wonderful and turns a blind eye. [Jack] Gilbert takes this middle way, and I think it’s a far better way. He says the world is terrible and wonderful, and your obligation is to joy . . . A real, mature, sincere joy -- not a cheaply earned, ignorant joy. He’s not talking about building a fortress of pleasure against the assault of the world. He’s talking about the miraculousness of moments of wonder and how it seems to be worth it after all . . .
This defines exactly what I want to strive to be -- a person who holds onto “stubborn gladness,” even when we dwell in darkness. I want to be able to contain both of them within me at the same time, remain able to cultivate joy and wonder even at life’s bleakest.
None of us should need permission to embrace joy, but I’m still thankful that I received it from Elizabeth. The delight I experience when I read something incredible written by a student is only deepened when I know he came to school with an empty belly and heavy heart. The excitement I feel when I watch a teacher lead a class by sharing her own writing as a mentor text is tempered with awe that she can still show such creativity and commitment when she hasn’t had a raise in five years.
Life is hard.
I’m filled with gladness anyway.
Stubbornly, persistently, and without apology.
This week we look at how you can approach your first days and weeks of the new year with your own version of stubborn gladness. Plus more as always -- enjoy!
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