Here’s what I want. I want a house with my own study completely dedicated to myself and everything I like to do.It will contain a vast personal library, a worn grand piano, and a simple wooden chair near a wall of windows with a small stand to leave my glasses on, which I will dub “The Pondering Area.” The whole room will probably be called, “The Genius Area,” but that particular section is specifically for pondering. This is where I will spend the majority of my workweek, writing, composing, postulating and perfecting many items of grandiose splendor and artistic magnitude, profound significance and mysterious wisdom.
I’ll get up around seven every morning and start my day well by intently tying my tie and thoughtfully selecting which rare and valuable coffee blend is most appropriate for my mood, along with an equally mood-appropriate cup and saucer. While the coffee brews and I tend to arranging and reorganizing the coffee cupboards, my wife will knock on the door, pleading to get a glimpse of my amazing study before she goes to work.
“The answer is the same as always, honey,” I shall respond in proud dismissal, “Read the sign.” Then I’ll give her a kiss and shut the door, which will have a big sign on it that says, “No women allowed.” After I’ve poured my coffee and had my chuckle at the idea of anybody ever getting to see my private sanctum, I’ll resume steadily and confidently typing up my latest novel on the typewriter — yes, my shamelessly romanticized and clearly impractical typewriter. Scoff if you must. I’m a genius and I can have one if I want. Occasionally I may reference one of the thousand-or-so books on the shelves surrounding my desk, but I will mostly know exactly what to write all the time. After I’ve completed a couple chapters, I’ll take half an hour to finish two or three books off the top of the “to read” pile, and take a break to ponder and postulate some more.
Then I’ll take a seat at the piano and scribble in a few more bars of the sonata I’ve been working on. It’s dedicated to my wife, who will soon be home from work apologizing for her rudeness earlier that morning in trying to see my study. Of course, I’ll forgive her, and we’ll have a delicious dinner and a great evening, and the next day I’ll do it all over again.
That’s my dream life.
I dislike when writers write down what they’re doing while they’re writing — “as I’m writing this I’m sipping on a cool iced tea in sunny Mexico.” Why are you telling me this? It seems tacky to me even when travel writers do it. I did it a lot when I was slightly younger and stupider because I liked the image of being a writer way too much. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’ve done it at least once in a piece for NSU. Yet, I can’t deny it this once — it is slightly ironic that, as I was writing all of that, I had to take a break because I was literally becoming nauseous with hunger, and now, as I’m writing this, I’m eating cold oatmeal in my dim apartment.
If you notice, there’s a slight contrast between my current situation and my dream life. You don’t need to tell me that “The Genius Room” will never be a reality if I’m so poor that I have to eat oatmeal for supper. You also don’t need to tell me that it’s pretty impossible for a room to be private if one of the walls is made of windows. And you also don’t need to tell me that making an oversight as obvious as that pretty well discredits the whole genius thing altogether. I’m aware. I don’t actually want to be a genius anyway. I mean, I’d love to write and create brilliant things someday, but not for something as petty as a reputation. It’s just nice to think about sometimes, that’s all.
Here’s the thing. I’m realizing that, even though I daydream sometimes about how great it would be if I could do all those things and be in that place, I don’t think life would be much nicer if I got everything I ever wanted. If there really are people that live in that enviable, simple complete happiness, (and I think there are some) we look for them in all the wrong places. They aren’t celebrities. Everybody but Charlie Sheen knows that Charlie Sheen isn’t winning. The guy who is winning, the guy who is legitimately fulfilled and has joy and love to spare, is just an average Joe that you’ve never heard of. Nobody idolizes him because nobody understands him, and he can’t make his philosophy popular because, unlike everything our culture wants it to be, it can’t be achieved in a few easy steps or bought for any amount of money. Not to mention happiness like that looks different on everyone who has it.
That being said, I’m realizing that that average Joe is me. I think it’s you too, if you’d like. When I stop and ponder, I realize that I have working legs and good lungs to work them with, and a bed to rest in and oatmeal to eat tomorrow morning. That’s pretty nice.
But it’s easy to skim over these familiarly presented thoughts and take them for granted. It’s even easy to hear the phrase “don’t take it for granted” and take that for granted, as if I didn’t need the reminder.
That’s why I don’t stop there — because, even if you don’t have oatmeal or working legs, I don’t think you have to be unhappy. For me, if these most basic of human comforts were taken away; if I didn’t have a home or a working body or a sound mind; if I were seized with disease or pain or death; even if my friends and family were gone and I was stripped of all dignity, naked in the cold, I would be alright. I don’t know what all of those things are like, but some of them I do. The point is that I’ve got things to sing about even more foundational than these basic comforts.
People understand the “count your blessings” message, because, while we tend to spend most of our time obsessing over the things we don’t have in life, we do spend some time appreciating what we do have.
The next notion up the scale of gratitude and contentment, however, is something along the lines of being more than happy with what you do have. Alternatively, it’s also being overjoyed with where you are and who you are and what you are. A lot of people go through their whole lives spending next to no time at all feeling this. A student at my school greeted one of my professors one day with a simple, “How are you doing, Professor?” My professor replied, “Better than I deserve. You know, it’s funny — even when I’m having a terrible day I’m doing far better than I deserve.”
This is usually about where people are no longer able to relate. The reason I can say I’d be alright dying right now, naked, cold and alone, is because I feel like God gave me more than I ever deserved. Life is hard, but it’s so spectacular.
Here’s why I’m not afraid of death. When I die, I don’t think there will be any joys or pleasures of life I’ll have missed out on that are better than what I’ve begun to experience already. There will be no family member or friend depending on me that couldn’t depend on God with better results. Similarly, there will be no good deed that needs my doing more than it needs God’s. God loves the ones I love much more than I do.
I understand some are probably now skeptical that I even have a sound mind to lose in the first place. If you are, you can surely believe at least this: it’s very rare on Earth for anyone to feel so blessed as to want to bless others. It’s very rare to feel this content and inspired, enough as to make me wonder why I ever wasted so much time being skeptical. I have been a disgrace of a human being. It was my fault that my life was so empty: that’s the way I wanted it and that’s the way I made it. Then I got turned around, and, to make a long story short, I found out that I didn’t really want what I wanted because I got God and that turned out to be way more than I ever wanted. Say that five times fast.