I’ll never forget the first time I witnessed pure joy—which, I hasten to add, is not the same thing as pleasure, ecstasy, satisfaction, contentment, or happiness. I was eight-years-old, walking home from Cecil Newman Elementary School, along Airlie Street (in Ville de LaSalle). The four of us lived in one of those crappy apartment buildings on Airlie: the one across from the grocery store, the one with the over-priced hamburger meat.
As I neared the window to our basement apartment, I heard the familiar sound of my mom’s sweet folk-singer’s voice. She was wearing bright yellow gloves, doing the dishes in the sink, and singing Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” (1972). I recall thinking—strange as it may sound—that if you could hear the smell of freshly baked bread, it would sound like this. Just like this.
My mother’s voice was mesmerizing, delightful, soulful, and enchanting. And I must have laid there—for at least ten minutes—on my belly, in front of that basement window, quietly listening to her sing—because she started and finished, two more songs, before she noticed me.
This much I can tell you about joy: it doesn’t come from outside of you; it doesn’t come in a box, a compliment, a chocolate, a glass of merlot, or a man; it can’t be bought, stolen, or sold. Joy comes from the inside: it bubbles up from within you like a secret or a spring; it’s sacred, spontaneous, and shrouded in mystery. I’ll never forget how unspeakably beautiful she looked.
This, thought I, is what our Lord’s face must have looked like during the Transfiguration! Joy filled her pretty little hippie face with something sublime, innocent, profoundly private, and divine.
If we’re going to philosophize, it’s going to involve walking or wine—fresh air, sunlight, and sky—laughter, gossip, and small talk. Sure, we’ll talk about God, Death, and the Human Condition, but also that outfit she wore last night to the Oscars. Sure, we’ll talk about Injustice, Impermanence, and Imperialism, but also blue butterflies from Baie-d’Urfé, purple tomatoes from Santropol Roulant, and red boots from Fluevog.
Sure, we’ll talk about Plato, Nietzsche, and that new one by Naomi Klein, but also TV shows like Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, & Orange is the New Black. Sure, we’ll talk about Climate Change, Trump, and Aleppo, but we’re also gonna talk about the kids, Meredith’s new place on Rue Chambord and the vicissitudes of rooftop gardening in a hipster homestead.
Truth be told, there’s nothing we won’t throw on the campfire of our conversation, nothing we won’t sacrifice on the altar, nothing that won’t be offered up as a burnt offering to the God of Talk, a deity who delights in frivolity and fanfare, a deity whose Holy of Holies can be found wherever people gather to tweet like parakeets, and groom each other like chimpanzees, a deity who can see the beauty in the pointless privileged prattle of a Jane Austen novel.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here: A Love Letter to Montréal (2017)