Reflections on Ross Gay’s Writing

From Ross Gay’s Book of Essays, The Book of Delights

“Woman supporting the Baby” (1635), Rembrandt

  1. The Sanctity of Trains


“The point is that in almost every instance of our lives, our social lives, we are, if we pay attention, in the midst of an almost constant, if subtle, caretaking. Holding open doors. Offering elbows at crosswalks. Letting someone else go first. Helping with the heavy bags. Reaching what’s too high, or what’s been dropped. Pulling someone back to their feet. Stopping at the car wreck, at the struck dog. The alternating merge, also known as the zipper. This caretaking is our default mode and it’s always a lie that convinces us to act or believe otherwise. Always” (Gay 135).


Whenever I go to get breakfast with my grandmother (which I am apt to do), she reflects on my generation’s obsession with technology, horrible dating practices, and uptick of psychopaths. (Note: I am, of course, the exception, as I have her perfect genes). While the technology obsession is true, it’s not our fault (we certainly didn’t create phones/social media). Dating practices, in my opinion, are closely tied to this technological abyss. And to the assertion of the uptick of “crazies” that practice violence (“that never happened when I was young,” says my grandma), I point to the dozens of serial killers that existed in the 70s and 80s (and are now the sources of podcasts where white women romanticize these horrific monsters). All this is to say that (1) my grandmother is perfect and yet (2) she is completely wrong.

Ross Gay’s essay entitled “The Sanctity of Trains” uses his train ride from Syracuse to Manhattan as a small example of the greater phenomenon of human beings’ innate goodness. We leave our bags unattended on train rides, trusting that those around us will act virtuously for the sake of it. We help strangers in little ways, nodding good morning and holding the door for someone else’s grandmother who we will never see again. We help a lost child (see “Giving My Body to the Cause,” coming together as a temporary group of concerned parents, even if we are childless ourselves. The underlying idea of this essay and, more generally, in Gay’s book is that human beings are innately good. Our instincts are to aid, to nurture, which I find to be a beautiful sentiment. 

2 Responses to Reflections on Ross Gay’s Writing

  1. Olivia Howe January 26, 2023 at 8:27 pm #

    Peyton, having faced the necessary evils of life, I was initially hesitant to agree with your final statements regarding the innate goodness of humanity. However, the claims you make regarding the small, and often insignificant seeming, gestures that we make daily have prompted me to rethink my decision. In reading Gay’s book I have done a bit of reflection in my own daily journal. Since beginning our journey with Gay’s delights, I have realized just how negative I am in my those reflections/entries. As a result, I made agreement with myself that I too should recall one delight for each of my days. It just so happens that of the many I have encountered so far, most fall under that category of small gestures and occurrences. So perhaps human beings are innately good… and I was wrong.

  2. Prof VZ January 29, 2023 at 7:04 pm #

    A beautiful sentiment indeed! I love that quote you offer at the start–that constant, subtle act of “taking care.” I always like that phrase as well–“take care.” It’s one of my preferred sign-offs. It’s a reminder if this act that Gay reminds is always already stitching us together.

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