My family has a fondness for disclaimers. When we exchange Christmas presents, the giver usually offers a disclaimer with the gift: “Before you open this, let me explain . . .” This is not wise, since the disclaimer may draw attention to a flaw that might have been overlooked. But giving disclaimers is a habit, so herewith I state that, because I am taking Photography 101, I may post photos here in response to assignments. I posted the first three assignments on sappy as a tree, but the fourth assignment — bliss — has pushed me into the abstract pondering that I like to do on this site.
“Ah, bliss. What does this word mean or look like to you?” When I saw the word “bliss,” it stirred a memory of the phrase “endless bliss.” I knew I had sung the words “endless bliss,” but where and when? I searched online and found “endless bliss” in the second stanza of an old Christmas carol, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice!”
Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss: Joy! Joy! Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened the heavenly door, and man is blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!
While I like to sing this rousing carol, its energy doesn’t fit with my conception of endless bliss, or heaven — a place of peace and rest, golden and perfect.
This photo of a sunset hints at heavenly bliss, but I felt far from peaceful when I took it. My husband and I were off on a rare weekend together when I realized that the sun was setting gloriously and I was failing to photograph it. The inn where we were staying faced east, so we jumped in the car and drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway, looking west for a place to stop and take a picture while the sky was still streaked with pink and orange. I did get a picture, but bliss was not the emotion we experienced.
My second notion of bliss is entirely self-oriented:
Once a week, my fourth grader and I go downtown for his geography class. Not being a coffee purist, I am thrilled that there is a Starbucks in the same building. Unless I foolishly leave my wallet in the car like I did this week, I have one hour to drink my nonfat cappuccino, send emails, catch up on reading, or check Facebook. On a good day, I snag a chair at the table by an outlet (my laptop’s battery won’t hold a charge). I enjoy the hour to myself, with no self-accusing voice to suggest that I am wasting time. This lovely hour flies by every week. The Starbucks closes before my son’s class ends, so the atrium is usually quiet and often empty. If bliss means ease of mind, physical comfort, and proximity to a computer, then this mundane photo represents it.
Many blissful moments in my life occur in conjunction with not having to go anywhere at all. Snow days can be blissful, especially if we have electrical power and can get to a hill for sledding. I remember being suffused with joy on a night when my older kids had come home from college and we sat around the family room together, laughing and talking about old times, instead of heading off into separate parts of the house. Of course, there are moments of special bliss, like a wedding or a graduation, but big events can be overwhelming, with too much to take in at once. Sometimes it is the tiny triumphs of life — like blowing out all the birthday candles at the same time — that inspire a sensation of bliss:
The “bliss” assignment has been the most difficult one yet, perhaps because bliss is an emotion — not tangible like the earlier topics of “home,” “street,” or “water.” At dinner, I asked my daughter what came to mind when she thought of bliss. She showed me a picture that she had posted to Instagram. It was a screenshot she had created from Act II of her ballet studio’s production of “The Nutcracker.” As Clara, she radiates bliss after the Dewdrop and Sugarplum Fairies welcome her to the Land of Sweets.
I am in danger of being too thorough with my visual examples of bliss, so I will close with an excerpt from Robert Browning’s Pippa Passes. In context, “Pippa’s Song” is ironic, since it is spoken by a girl walking innocently past vignettes of intrigue, malice, and hardship. But Browning’s lines express bliss through Pippa’s simple enjoyment of her holiday, a day in which the natural world greets her at its freshest and simplest:
THE year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world!
Notes: The lyrics to “Good Christian Men, Rejoice!” were written by Heinrich Suso in the 1300s, to be sung with the tune In dulci jubilo, and translated from Latin to English by John M. Neale (1853). All photos with the exception of “The Nutcracker” are copyrighted by Sandra Fleming @2014 and are her property. Please do not reproduce them without her permission. Text copyright Sandra Fleming @2014.