samedi, mai 06, 2006
What does it take to be content?
Recently I concluded a telephone conversation with a charming man who calls himself a "geezer." I haven't yet met him, although he sounds like a lovely gentleman. Because I'm a journalist, and he is apparently quite a gregarious fellow, it didn't take more than about a minute for us to establish a rapport based on nothing more than the common bond of living about five minutes from one another. After taking down my number so his wife could return the call, he told me exactly where he lives-on a small house he and his wife built at the end of one of the developments that has sprung up around here like mushrooms over the past decade. Their little retirement haven nestles next to the 19th century house they used to dwell in, and adjacent to a 23 acre parcel of land which they apparently also own. When I teased him for sounding complacent, he said he wasn't complacent at all. In fact, he was champing at the bit to get down to the Chesapeake Bay, where they own a boat. Married for 57 years to the same person, living in the woods in a place he clearly loves, he owned up to having had a good life. In fact, he sounded content. What is remarkable about his state of mind is that I know so few people who are really, truly content. Admittedly, my new acquaintance's life is made easier because he is obviously a person of means. Lack of life's basic necessities can strip one of hope, which can lead to despair and violence against oneself or one's community. It doesn't excuse the complacency of many affluent people or excuse poverty to say that I've also met economically brutalized people who were serene. Poverty can make one miserable. A lack of fundamentals like decent nutritious food, clean water and good sanitation takes away a sense of innate dignity that we are all entitled to because we are made by God. Yet, though money softens a lot of life's buffets, contentment isn't directly linked to how much money one has. A lot of folks with means are nasty, selfish, and unhappy. Contentment seems more directly connected to whether we are faithful to the best that is in us. "To thine own self be true." A believer would term the capacity to live according to one's ideals being faithful to the image of God in all of us. That's an ongoing process. None of us does it perfectly. Oftentimes we get seduced by the multiple distractions and temptations that surround us. What goes into making us people capable of living harmoniously with one another, with God and with the natural world is in part a mystery. The journey can only begin, however, when we take time to listen to the inner voice of conscience that calls us to look, and to live more wholly within and beyond ourselves. It is not the voice of guilt that changes us. It is the calling to be open to the movement of the Spirit within us...and to follow.