|A Stephen T. McCarthy vacation memory|
In the preface to ‘Surprised By Joy’ C.S. Lewis writes this:
How far the story matters to anyone but myself depends on the degree to which others have experienced what I call “joy.” If it is at all common, a more detailed treatment of it than has (I believe) been attempted before may be of some use. I have been emboldened to write of it because I notice that a man seldom mentions what he had supposed to be his most idiosyncratic sensations without receiving from at least one (often more) of those present the reply, “What! Have you felt that too? I always thought I was the only one.”
And later in the book, along the same lines, Lewis writes:
Nothing, I suspect, is more astonishing in any man’s life than the discovery that there do exist people very, very like himself.
I had assumed that by the word “Joy” in the book’s title, C.S. Lewis meant something like “glee”, which is what the word “joy” has always implied to me. And I didn’t know what he was referring to with that allusion to some sensation that might engender a response such as“Have you felt that too? I always thought I was the only one.” But I didn’t have long to wait in finding out. And never in a million years would I have guessed that by “Joy” C.S. Lewis meant what I have always meant when I used the word “Goldenshadow” – a word I had invented to describe a feeling that I always assumed I was the only one to experience, and thus a new word was needed!
The "Goldenshadow" Concept
I considered “Goldenshadow” to be my secret weapon as an artist; it was that one totally indefinable “feeling” that enveloped my life and ran through it going back to my earliest memories. It was a special gift from God. I could use it in my art and in my life. When Warren Zevon sang one of the greatest lines ever committed to song, “There’s a sadness in the heart of things”, I got it! I totally got it and I figured that nobody else did. Certainly I never saw where anyone else ever pointed out what a perceptive, accurate and fabulous line that was. Frankly, I even kind of doubted that Warren Zevon, who wrote the line, really fully understood it. But in one simple yet brilliant sentence, he had captured “Goldenshadow”.
Goldenshadow was my own utterly unique “thing” – a state of mind, a prevailing feeling of the soul that I had and yet no one knew I had it because I wasn’t telling; I wasn’t even going to attempt the impossible and try to explain it to anyone. And no one could ever really understand it anyway because I alone possessed it. Or so I thought.
Shortly after reading ‘Surprised By Joy’ and being shocked to learn that Lewis knew my Goldenshadow (even if he referred to it as “Joy”) I described Goldenshadow to my Brother and Sister and was again surprised to learn that they also knew what I was referring to. So much for my having a “unique gift”, eh?
I had now come to realize that those fleeting feelings of “Joy” or “Goldenshadow” are probably a nearly universal human experience. In fact, my brother Nappy even recognized that Warren Zevon’s line“There’s a sadness in the heart of things” was an excellent description of Goldenshadow, and my Sister said that - as with me - Goldenshadow is sometimes induced in her by certain songs, although the songs that worked on her were different from those that work on me.
GOLDENSHADOW: THE MOST NOTEWORTHY EXPERIENCES
In my waking life I have experienced Goldenshadow many times. But undoubtedly the two most powerful encounters I’ve ever had with it took place in the sleep state. Some of you might mistake these experiences for simple “dreams” but I can assure you they were no mere dreams. These were remarkable spiritual experiences.
In one of them, I found myself as an adult back in my paternal Grandmother’s Orange County Mobile Home, where we used to go to spend Christmas Days with her when I was a child. But it didn’t really look like her mobile home did in reality. For one thing, it was considerably larger and most everything was a deep, rich green or glowing gold color. The old-fashioned beauty of it and the longing it created in me to “go back” to those good old days was so strong that it sort of hurt me. It was a mixture of glee and pain – overwhelming! I had that dream many years ago and yet I still sort of feel the emotion it induced in me even as I type this now.
[However, the “good old days” of my Grandmother’s mobile home which I was longing for was merely a symbol for something else. The real “Good Old Days” that this dream was pointing back at took place in a spiritual Kingdom long, long ago.]
The other Goldenshadow “dream” I had was even more powerful. The next morning I wrote about it in the Spiritual Journal I used to keep. Here is a word-for-word copy of my journal entry:
Feb. 4, 1998
I HAD A REMARKABLE DREAM LAST NIGHT; LIKE NONE I HAVE EVER HAD BEFORE! I found myself in a fairly nondescript setting; there were a number of trees in view, and they were, perhaps, lining a dirt path – that’s all this place consisted of – the location for this dream seemed irrelevant. It was my very favorite time of the day, when the sun is finishing its descent toward the horizon, when patchy spots of golden light are contrasted by long shadows stretching toward the east… the last of the day [Note: the “Autumn” time of day], when the world begins to settle into the stillness of evening.
I was admiring the light and shadows in the foilage of the trees when I became absolutely OVERWHELMED BY AN INDESCRIBABLE SENSE OF WELL-BEING! It was as if I had become a part of the serenity around me, and rather than beholding beauty, I HAD BECOME BEAUTY! And instead of inhaling air, it seemd that I was breathing the light and shadows I had been admiring, and had become dusk itself. I was filled with unfathomable peace, although “peace” is really not the right word for it – I was wonderfilled (yes, a slightly better description) and I felt far better than it is possible for a mortal mind to even imagine! I felt so great that it quite literally took my breath away, and I found myself gasping between exclamations of, “OH!...OH!...OH!”
Indeed, I felt so good that weeping seemed to be the only natural and reasonable response, and an act of inexpressable gratitude. Soon I began to experience a pervasive melancholy because there was nobody else present to share this with. It was truly too good for just one person to have, and all that was lacking in this perfect state of being was others. I, one of the great loners, suddenly found that I desperately wanted to have people around me to share this feeling with, and so a deep sadness was mixed with the euphoria.
I thought to myself: I’ll have to remember how this feels so I can tell others about it. But then instantly I realized that this would not be possible, and I answered: No, it’s no use. I’ll never be able to tell ANYONE about this because there aren’t any words that can describe it. This feeling can’t be translated in words!!! And this saddened me further. Soon after, the dream ended.
I have had many unexplainable spiritual experiences in my life, but to this day, I consider that the most powerful one of them all. If, by my description above, you believe you have gotten some glimpse of how I felt in that dream, think again! Because even I, who had the dream, can’t really recreate in me what that felt like. It was something “given” to me but which I couldn’t hold on to and keep and which I can’t truly remember in any worthy way. I can only say that my mortal consciousness was overcome by wonder and Love. And that’s an utterly failed attempt to use words to describe the indescribable.
Thank you, Stephen, for allowing me to repost this excerpt. For those of you who wish to read the complete haunting and beautifully written blog post you can find it HERE.