Every so often, I get a glimpse into what is truly important in life to my family and friends – and it scares me. Different people have different priorities. I’d like to think that God is at the top of the list, followed closely by family and friends and love – and followed distantly by work, money, the pursuit of pleasure and all the other things that the surveys on happiness generally ask people to rate.
Money, of course, always gets more importance than it deserves, for Christians and non-Christians alike, despite what Christ told us about not being able to serve God and Mammon. And it’s an indisputable fact that Christ’s priorities aren’t the same priorities modern America lives by.
When I talk to my daughters, I realize there’s also a difference in the way generations look at the important things in life. Generation Y is arguably more materialistic than the Baby Boomers, and Generation X, the notorious “Me Generation,” which is sandwiched in between the two, is probably the most self-centered.
Two of my daughters place importance on career success and getting ahead. The other two … well, I’m not sure what drives them. They’ve done their share of volunteer work in places like India, Haiti and Kenya, working with Mother Teresa’s nuns, so they may be motivated by a higher calling. But after they get home from these missionary activities, it’s often back to the mall for some materialistic suburban therapy.
One of my friends had a relative with lots of money; so much money he was ranked as one of the top 500 executives in the world, which means to say he was clearly a force to be reckoned with when it came to the time-honored tradition of accumulating wealth.
While she was at lunch with him and his wife, my friend spent the greater part of the afternoon listening to them talk about success – his successes, their mutual successes, the successes of their children and their upcoming successes. That’s a lot of success to endure. Needless to say, their nonstop bragging made for a tremendously boring lunch.
Whenever I’m assaulted by Trump-like egos who make me feel like the doorman by comparison, I start to assess my life, the square footage of my house, the make of my car, my ancestry, my complexion, my credit-card debt and my crooked teeth. Then, I ask the hard question: Where’s the success? Why didn’t I concentrate more on getting ahead? Why am I such a failure?
I never gave a commencement speech. My kids didn’t compete in the Olympics. I never won a two-foot-tall sports trophy, or even a spelling bee trophy, although in eighth grade, I took first place in the PTA poetry contest.
To interrupt this incessant bragging, my friend finally blurted out, “So what are your plans for the new year?” The fellow, who may actually have been one of the top 500 executives on the South Shore of Long Island, exclaimed, “I plan to renovate the ancestral villa … and make more money.”
At that point, I would have left the lunch wondering, “Why isn’t my life more like theirs?” Why? Because I suffer a chronic affliction shared by millions of people: I am “ordinary.” Don’t you hate that word? Plus, I don’t have the faintest idea where my ancestral villa is.
Worse than just being ordinary, my life is usually filled with trials and troubles, challenges and obstacles, not to mention misadventures, pains, sorrows and a heck of a lot of yelling at the dinner table. Some people give the illusion of having perfect lives while the rest of us feel we’ve been stamped “irregular fit” from birth.
Nevertheless, I’ve come to admire people who share that quality of “ordinariness” because their depth is measured by more than titles and assets and headlines. The good news, of course, is that Christ came for the ordinary. How unfair it would be if he judged the way the world judges, by a person’s wealth and power and prestige.
With Jesus, the first will be last, and the last will be first, and that’s a reason to be happy.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.