My daughter calls me in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. It’s February and she’s away at college. A phone call from her at this time of day when I usually think of her in class is a little jarring. I pick up. Right away I can tell from her voice that something is off. It comes tumbling out. She’s just broken up with her boyfriend and is feeling REALLY sad. Plus, she laments, classes are REALLY tough and she’s feeling A LOT of stress.
I immediately tell her I’m so sorry, although I’ve never actually met said boyfriend of only a few months and from what she’s told me of him I’m not overly impressed. Plus, I think, isn’t college supposed to be hard? I keep these thoughts to myself. But we were all young once, so I feel her pain: “Oh, honey,” I tell her, “that’s so hard.” And I mean it.
After a bit of a cry she begins to calm down and admits that the breakup is for the better. He blows off studying and has been distracting her from her own studies, she, my very dedicated student. But she will miss the companionship, the intimacies…I hear the beginning of more tears.
In my usual motherly way, I begin to offer some perspective to try to give her a jolt out of her doldrums. I’ve just finished reading a book that offers the perfect antidote.
It’s called The Book of Delights. The author, a poet first, decided to write a little essay every day for a year, beginning and ending with his birthday on August 1, on something each day that delighted him. Things like finding a flower sprouting up in the curb of a New York street, receiving a high-five from a stranger, writing by hand, nicknames, an observed kindness.
The book is a collection of some of his best essayettes from his year-long experiment. Each is a treasure of beautiful language and simple, but, often, profound thoughts and ideas. And then this cool thing happens to the author. As he writes his essays each day it occasions in him a kind of “delight radar,” (isn’t that wonderful!) and the more he looks for delight each day, the more delight there is to be found. It’s not that his days are “without sorrow or fear or pain or loss,” but that each day seems “more full of delight.”
I tell my daughter about the book. “Imagine, my sweet, if you go through each of your days with your “delight radar” up. How might that change what you choose to focus on?”
She likes the idea and says she’ll give it a try. The next day she calls again. “Hello,” I say. “How are you feeling today?”
“Mom, I’ve been doing that delight radar thing, and I feel so much better today! It’s really working.”
Oh, if parenting were always that easy. Offer a suggestion, and, Voila, it’s implemented and appreciated. But I will take what I can get.
Thank you, Ross Gay, for your beautiful book, for enlivening my own “delight radar,” and, most of all, for making me seem like an awesome mom to my daughter, even if only for a day.