Word of the Day: JOY

Word of the Day: JOY

When I come home from work, my dog Jasper greets me with a dog-version of JOY that is so intense, he sometimes has to run around in big circles to get it out of him, and if I get down on the floor he will run straight at me and leap right into my chest, leaving the ground six feet away. I have to catch him in mid-air so that he doesn’t hurt himself — I’ve never had a dog do anything like it.

I’m fond of what C. S. Lewis says in That Hideous Strength, when his hero Ransom is describing what goes on in the mind of Mr. Bultitude, the tame bear. It echoes what he says about “projection,” if I remember right, in The Weight of Glory. What the animal feels is genuine and is like the experience of a human being, but in a lower dimension; like the projection of a three-dimensional experience onto a two-dimensional plate. So the dog’s JOY is like human JOY, but the converse isn’t true. At least, my wife doesn’t run around like that when I come home! But she is happier about it than Jasper is, because she is happy in a way that transcends anything that the good doggy can know.

We could never say, of Jasper, with his great loyalty and intelligence and 75 tricks, that he could experience JOY concurrent with sadness, or that he could experience a holy awe that is JOY’s richest field for thriving. The sadness overwhelms, and the awe is beyond his capacity. People say that human beings are like gods to their dogs, but I think that that is only a jest; human beings are to dogs like great big playful funny-sound-making food-providing warmth-making dogs. It is truer to say that dogs are a greater source of wonder for human beings than the other way around, and rightly so. Jasper loves music, and will curl up at my feet when I play the piano; but if I sing, “How Much Is that Doggy in the Window?” he gets excited and jumps up to lick my face. I will be hearing some music tomorrow, sung by students at Thomas More College, that will bring me a quiet JOY, because it will be beautiful, and it will be sacred music.

That is a mystery. I have felt JOY in the dark of winter, alone; I have felt it when there was no cause for it other than wonder and peace. Pleasure comes and goes. Merriment can’t last for too long before we’re exhausted and need a rest. But JOY, that’s different. Maybe the great mystics can teach us about it, those men and women who knew it in the midst of privation, suffering, and separation from their loved ones.

GAUDEAMUS IGITUR, went that jaunty drinking-song of the scholars in the Middle Ages, JUVENES DUM SUMUS! Youth passes, but I’ve never really found that JOY was peculiar to that age. Mirth, craziness, falling in love, yes; JOY, well, not really. As for the word: most of our short English words beginning with J in them come from the French, during the Middle Ages: JUST, JOIN, JEST, JET. JOY is one such; its ultimate source is Latin GAUDIUM, REJOICING. The intervocalic D was often lost in French: Latin FIDES, French FOI, Latin VIDERE, French VOIR, Latin CAUDA, French QUEUE.

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