I’m just back from a week in Florida. In addition to visiting family and enjoying the beach and the storm-tossed sea, I revisited Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which nearly killed me last year (as chronicled in the blog entry “The Happiest Place on Earth.”) This year, thanks to technical difficulties, I didn’t have to face down my fear of the Everest ride (“Of course you can do it,” said another in our party. “They strap you in and in about three minutes it’s done.” His point, I guess, is that it is an all but involuntary procedure, not really a test of any finer, inner quality.) This year, there was just the comparatively gentle safari ride (where I saw a silver back gorilla who embodied what it means to be still and alert, nothing but his eyes moved as he sat and took in supposedly higher life forms that moved about restlessly in the oppressive August heat)–the white water rapids ride–the dinosaur ride–all rides that Alex and I have come to experience as memories (“Remember, the first time you did this ride you closed you eyes the whole time). During the trip, I happened to be reading Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis at Alex’s urging, because she was much impressed with it last year in college. I kept thinking about the differences and similarities between Lewis’s definition of Joy which is infused with a sense of memory, of nostalgia, of an overwhelming longing for something that overtakes him each time with “the same surprise and the same sense of incalculable importance. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something…’in another dimension.'” Lewis contrasts Joy, which is “that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction” with mere Happiness–and he never link it with Disney Happiness. Still, there is something in the way Alex was embracing the place in every detail including (especially) the nostalgia the place provoked–there was something about the way she kept remembering the experiences that she was having again that reminded me of Lewis’s Joy: It has to do with remembering! Remembering the joy that surprised him on a certain walk (for Alex, a certain ride) brought an experience of the same kind: “But then what I had felt on the walk had also been desire, and only possession in so far as that kind of desire is itself desirable, is the fullest possession we can know on earth; or rather, because the very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting. There to have is to want and to want is to have. Thus, the very moment when I longed to be so stabbed again, was itself again such a stabbing….”
Maybe this is a weird quote to include in a blog. Still, thinking of Alex’s full tilt embrace of the nostalgia of the Disney experience–and registering of my own painful sense of time passing, that I was remembering being with her and with the rest of my family even as I was with them –it dawns on me that what he is trying to capture is true! And this act of remembering is crucial in the process of being fully human.
And I know perfectly well that Lewis was writing about a longing for alignment with something from another level, something holy, not a longing for the “Kali River Rapids Ride”…Not a longing to get in line or to “Have a Wild Time” (as they say when you buy a ticket) one more time. But there was something pure of heart in what was happening. And as Lewis himself says, “all things in their way, reflect heavenly truth.”