To my thinking, the best things in life are free – even though my daughters insist the best things come out of the J. Crew catalog or boutiques at the mall.
But those pleasures and possessions are only temporary, and they keep you wanting more as you struggle to satisfy a materialistic hunger that can never be satisfied. For many people, consumerism can be as powerful an addiction as substance abuse.
When I had this discussion around the dinner table, everyone had a different formula for happiness, and inevitably they involved buying, getting, gaining and acquiring.
Later that night while I was lying in bed, pondering the “best things” in my life, it occurred to me that God wouldn’t give life’s greatest pleasures and joys just to people who had money. He would make them available to all of us, regardless of income – from the high school girl working at the Dunkin Donuts drive-up window to even Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Buffett, by the way, is known for enjoying a good steak and onion sandwich in his hometown of Omaha. No pretension there.
As I pondered the best things in life, I thought of the many joys, from love of family and friends and puppies to other memorable pleasures I’ve had that are available to everyone. God wanted it that way.
I’ve eaten at some of the finest and most expensive restaurants in New York – typically when someone else was paying – and had famous dishes in Italy’s notable eateries, but when all was said and done after a lifetime of eating, all those notoriously renowned chefs and trendy places couldn’t make veal parmigiana like my mother. How is that possible? A woman who had to quit high school during World War II to help support her family also made better gravy than the best of the best, which means to say that in our lower middle-class family, we ate like Italian aristocracy. (I won’t even start raving about her pot roast.)
I love Renaissance painting and can spend the afternoon walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the countless churches in Italy with their works by Titian and Tiepolo and Bellini and Raphael; and yet, can any of these marvelous man-made creations compare with the sunrise along the coast of Maine on an October morning when the world seems ablaze with autumnal color and celestial grace? God always does it best, and it’s there for all of us.
And while I’ve enjoyed vacationing in Europe from museum to mansion, from cathedral to ancient Roman ruins, I’ve had the greatest pleasure walking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire along the Franconia Ridge, where you can go from summit to summit on a narrow path and look out on either side to see mountains rising and falling like ocean waves in shades of blue – vast and marvelous worlds just waiting for you to explore.
I’ve been to concerts by great conductors and to operas by great composers and I’ve seen celebrated Tony Award-winning performances on Broadway that have earned effusive praise of the crustiest critics in theaters where you need a very large bank account to afford the tickets (they were usually gifts); and yet, those memorable and pleasant occasions couldn’t compare with the delight and peace I’ve experienced sitting in front of a golden monstrance during eucharistic adoration in tranquil and reflective moments with the Blessed Sacrament.
And as insane as it sounds, I’ve socialized, usually against my will, with the high and mighty and haughty, rubbing shoulders with the people of power and influence, and, from time to time, I’ve had to shake myself into reality and wonder, “What the heck am I doing here?” Because it’s often a social sham.
But I’ve had immeasurably more joy rolling around on the living room floor, wrestling with our puppy, or sitting around the dinner table laughing and joking with my family – usually at my expense.
God gave us all these greatest of pleasures – family, love, nature, the Eucharist, creatures – and when you stop to think about it, nothing else, man-made or man-inspired, can compare with the joy and pleasure they bring.
Now, if I can just convince my daughters that an evening of eucharistic adoration is better than an evening at the mall, I will have achieved a great personal victory.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.