This afternoon I embarked on a typical walk around my housing estate, hoping to perhaps catch a few stray winter photons on my pallid skin. Entering an open area, I paused walking and pointed unfocused eyes towards the sun. But lo, insulated against the British January chill, I started to feel something I’ve long missed. I scarcely recognised the emotion. It remained…a slender, meagre, sense of joy. Temporary and thin, but joy nonetheless.
You’ll notice I haven’t uploaded any posts for many months. Psychologically, it’s been a difficult time. Throughout the summer I did however compose hundreds of haiku, inspired by nature, the sky, the sun, coffee, my cat. Perhaps I’ll post some of those here.
At the present moment in early January 2021, we are in ‘Tier 4’ Covid lockdown, the fatalities spiralling, and have just begun our post-Brexit exile from Europe - enacted by a self-serving government of almost unparalleled venality and arrogance - and will be forced to watch them feather their own nests at the cost of the long-term prosperity of the nation throughout the next four years, and yet still I felt a sliver of joy.
The climate crisis is beginning to bite, and we are near the precipice of the most fearful financial meltdown and currency crisis since the Great Depression, and yet I felt a sliver of joy.
Prince William published an environmental call-to-arms on TED.com, and an environmental scholar, Johan Rockström, described the shocking collapses underway in almost every facet of the environment. We have a decade to right the wrongs with the planet, no more. If we even have that. And yet still I breathed in the slender scent of joy.
On a personal level, for eight years now I’ve shared a tiny, cramped, one-bedroom house - which has become like a prison cell since Covid arrived. I long for solitude and space. My plans last May to move to Spain with my partner, to begin a new life and put behind me a lifetime of indifferently-paid and exhausting public sector work, have been postponed indefinitely by the virus. For almost a year I haven’t been able to chew the cud in my local cafe with the staff there, not even behind a mouth-cloth. And yet my body vibrated with a feeble current of joy.
It has been another year of failing to make progress on the thing most meaningful to me - writing the novels I’ve spent my lifetime promising myself I would write before my death. True though, that I have lately begun making progress on my Spanish, and have maintained a simple exercise regimen since the end of the 2019-2020 winter.
At this point I looked briefly around to check that nobody had noticed anything physical manifest - any vague wisp of happiness emanating from me. No one was pointing fingers.
So, why the joy?
In truth I don’t know, but the days are slowly growing longer, and the vaccines will eventually be delivered to my local surgery. Also we’re on the verge of a new and saner US presidency. also this morning I’d read the unexpected and wonderful news that the US Democrats were on the verge of gaining two new Senators in Congress, and maybe this was in the back of my mind. Despite the Tory Party and Brexit shit-show, good is beginning to conquer evil somewhere in the globe. At least on one side of the pond, the adults are almost in the saddle again.
So, apart from the turn-around in America, and the likely end of the first and most frightening period of politics during my lifetime, from where else could the 'joy' originate?
The path of the sun through my local sky equates more or less to the plane of the Solar System - the ecliptic. That narrow tilted slice through the Buckinghamshire sky is pool of light around the lamp post where you look first to see planets. When I perceived the crisp wintry brightness of Sol I suddenly felt how close we are here to the centre of the Solar System.
I felt the presence around me of our entire planetary system - the gas giants far, far out - Jupiter five times as far from the sun, and the space between me and the sun suddenly seemed claustrophobic. I felt in my bones that I stood upon a tiny penny in the middle of a large and wonky dinner plate - the penny being our planet’s orbit and the plate that of Pluto, a world so distant that the sun is just another pin prick of light in a perpetual night sky, and it has a surface of frozen nitrogen and carbon monoxide.
So expansive and vast are the outer reaches of our Solar System, past the orbits of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, that I felt how close our planetary home is to the sun. We really are almost at the centre, and the final line of every Homo sapiens’ postal address is ‘Earth, Inner Solar System.’
Most of the cosmos, even within the Milky Way, is in perpetual gloomy darkness, and most of our Solar System is scarcely better illuminated. It’s only in the tiny inner part, inside the orbit asteroid belt, that the Sun is visible as a warming power source. There’s a reason that all the space probes that have undertaken grand voyages around the Solar System have been powered by the thermal decay of radioisotopes - it’s so fucking cold and dark out there, beyond Mars. In the inner Solar System, we are living in an oasis. In the oasis.
A little misplaced hope - hope contrary to the evidence - that earthlings can get their shit together and make it through another century, together with the felt presence of this oasis and of the grandeur of the Solar System ranged around me - perhaps these were the origin of my joy.