It is a curious request to make of God.
Shield your joyous ones, asks the Anglican prayer:
Shield your joyous ones.
~ Kay Redfield Jamison, Exuberance: The Passion for Life.
I stayed up reading poetry one night.* And the next day. And into the next night. And the following day. A poetry marathon. And the more I read the more enthused I became. Each poem put a longing in me to read the next. I felt so alive. My skin tingled. Pathways to my brain that had been blocked for almost 25 years were cleared. A lightning bug floated in the air around me, dancing with the illumined sparks on the screen that spoke inspired words to me.
The next day a friend asked me, “Are you manic?”
Maybe, I thought. Or maybe I’m just excited. Enthused. On fire with life.
Staying up all night, and the next day, can certainly trigger a manic episode, so I went to bed early the following night. Instead of having screen time, I opened the book quoted above.
Kay Redfield Jamison is a top research psychiatrist from Johns Hopkins, specializing in bipolar disorder. She knows it inside and out, being diagnosed herself. She has written a memoir, books on suicide, creativity, as well as others. Her unique take starts not by examining behavior pathologically. Instead, she describes it as it is, then looks at how it both enhances and inhibits functioning.
She begins Exuberance by exploring the lives of two distinct men with a shared passion: Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir.
Roosevelt was born in the lap of luxury, and rose to political and social prominence rapidly. He soon became a war hero, then Governor of New York, the Vice President, and finally President of the United States. John Muir was a college drop-out who wandered West with no plan, or prospects. The idea of these lives intersecting was preposterous. Yet, it happened. And more.
How did it happen? It was their unparalleled exuberance over the natural world [Creation]. They served on the front-lines of a holy war against the destruction of earth. God’s world entrusted to us. With Roosevelt’s kingly legislation, and Muir’s prophetic vision, major steps were made to build national parks, create national forests, set-up wildlife preserves, and initiate irrigation programs. We have their legacy to thank for living in the country we do. (At least for now.)
So my question for them is, “Were you mad?”
White House staffers who had to do government business over the squeals of children’s raucous laughter, and the clattering of ponies on marble stairwells, could have a made a good case for Roosevelt’s madness.
Had someone been there to witness Muir swinging from a hundred-foot Douglas spruce in the midst of a winter gale, they might have thought he would be safer in locked away in some supervised asylum.
So, were they mad? Maybe. But a little madness goes a long way, doesn’t it?
They were two exuberant men who, by God’s grace, perhaps unknown to them, were shielded from their joy.
Tonight is a more peaceful night for me. I have rested through the day. It helps that Briley barks when she wants to cuddle on the bed. My exuberance has been replaced by a sense of joy. Contentment.
God’s shield remains firm.
* Note: The poet I’ve been reading is named DeMaris Gaunt. You can find her work at demarrisspeaks. So many of her poems spoke to me, but I’ll just list three if you want to explore: “Gravitational Pull,” “Advertisement,” “High Note.”