Grief & Delight

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This past weekend my friend Heidi Johnston and I led a session at the Rabbit Room’s Hutchmoot UK in Oxford, England. Our topic was delight and the writer.

The things you delight in are a clue to what you ought to be writing, we suggested, a clue to what you have to offer in your creative work. The world needs your delight more than it needs you skill or talent or cleverness—even more than it needs your “message.” 

But in the discussion time at the end of the session, a man named James asked what’s a writer to do if he is in a season of life when he feels he has no access to delight, only grief. I thought that was an excellent question. Also, I felt ill-prepared to give an answer. 

As it turned out, James and I sat other across from one another at supper that evening. Doug McKelvey was at our table too, so we posed James’s question to him: When a writer is in a season of grief, with no access to delight, how does he keep writing?

I wish I could give you a verbatim account of Doug’s answer, which was beautiful. I can’t, but here are a few highlights: In a season of desolation, Doug said, it’s important to remember that you are given the present hour, the present minute to steward. You may be able to do only a very little. But maybe you can do that little, a minute at a time, an hour at a time? It may feel like you are trudging through waist-deep snow. But maybe you can keep trudging, just a short step at a time? When the winter ends and the thaw comes, hopefully you can look back at the little path you forged in the hardest season. But even if you can’t forge ahead, that time isn’t wasted. Even grief bears good fruit. And the winter always ends.

[You can read more from Jonathan Rogers every Tuesday by subscribing to The Habit Weekly at TheHabit.co.]

Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we've ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.


2 Comments

  1. Catherine Menefee

    @catherinem

    This is a lovely answer, and I think I would expand on it. Grief is, in some sense, the inverse of delight. I think of Jesus enduring the cross for the joy set before him (also, that line in WandaVision: “What is grief but love persevering?”) For some time, I’ve been working on a chapbook -length poetry collection that deals with infertility and fertility treatments. There’s a real sense in which the grief that has informed those poems is a burgeoning, raw, difficult delight: delight in the hope of creation, in marital love, in children (even the potential of them). I suggest that often, our grief reveals and even grows our delight through those bitter seasons you described.
     

  2. KC

    We are ravenous for your delight – but we need your grief as well.  If we use either as a drug to push away full reality, then we end up with problems, so: please, share your grief as well as your delight, with neither doctored up or grown artificially.

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