It was a lovely summer day, worries blessedly at bay – and then by mistake, you let in one of those pesky flies it’s hard to swat or lead back outside. And you’ve got this wonderful breakfast on the table, one that somehow physically resembles ointment (let’s say); and the darned fly decides to sit down in it, contaminating this scrumptious treat. Isn’t that fly in the proverbial ointment (or oatmeal) like much of life itself?
Maybe such an anecdote sounds rather clumsy as an intro to this piece. But here’s what I want to get to with the following question: Do you ever wish – I feel sure some do – that you could bring back all the good things in your past, and stick them onto the positives you currently enjoy? Why on earth can’t that happen? So people must often bedevil themselves inside by wondering.
Sure, there have to be a select few out there who’ve had perfect felicity all the way, and are thoroughly content with the way it was, and now is. But more pervasively, this hope for complete contentment seems akin to way the Beach Boys once put it: i.e., “wouldn’t it be nice?” In other words mostly a pipe dream...
Part of the problem being that many, I’d posit, once had certain illusions, or downright callowness back when, and this or that sufficed and brought pleasure, as it no longer would today. Like picking up a found penny? Perhaps.
By contrast, some of what you’ve got on your contemporary plates seems just fine, and you wouldn’t want to go back to the pains you once endured in this or that department. Or let’s say lacks, including more generally, of wisdom, which supposedly comes with maturity.
How, in sum, does one put it all together, and avoid those darned flies in the ointment? The rational, cognitive fact of the matter is obviously that one can’t, or again, not in the world we inhabit (some small minority of people again excepted, you know, lolling contentedly by pools in nice places, and with all ducks presumably in a row).
The great French novelist Honoré de Balzac (try his “Cousin Pons” or “Eugénie Grandet”) declared that all young men want to be famous and loved by a beautiful woman. Certainly that was true of those like him who aspired to a certain literary fame (it could be some other endeavor, too, including in our day, rock star). OK: so you become famous and then it brings all sorts of downsides, right? Unwelcome intrusions by all and sundry, too much travel, and maybe after a while, a sense that it still doesn’t fill all the gaps inside. The love of a beautiful woman? How about pain, heartbreak, and so on? Can’t that also happen?
Balzac said, too, that we suffer from mere pebbles in our shoes that only we can feel. Being spoiled certainly helps in that regard, spoiled as many in today’s America are, where we do often worry about these figurative pebbles, rather than bigger, more serious matters.
Try, however, being without shoes in winter, as was the case for many in Soviet satellites (Hungarians, Poles, etc.) during the Cold War. Try living in once happy, now sad Hong Kong and putting life and liberty on the line to preserve vital independence from a cruel regional behemoth. Or being in today’s Cuba or Venezuela, Iran or North Korea. Living in such places makes what I’ve said above seem coddled in the extreme.
In sum: maybe best (though difficult to put into practice) to thank God for what one has, rather than focus on what one doesn’t have. And to cut oneself a break on the fact that somehow the goods of the past and those of the present seem often divergent, and difficult, even impossible for many of us to stitch together! Oh well... At least you lost some friends in the process who it turns out weren’t good ones anyway! Let ‘em stay at the bar or wherever and find others to bring down to their level.
I wish there were some better conclusion to offer. But while on this earth, I guess it’s always, but always a process, and there never really is a definitive conclusion. Right?
B.B. Singer has taught at several area colleges including Niagara University.