That Empty Glass Is FullMonday, December 16, 2013
I can remember vividly that day sometime in 1956 when our religion teacher, Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. brought a pitcher with water and two glasses into our class. One glass was small and the other big. He filled both glasses and asked us which of the glasses was fuller. We all immediately pointed to the large glass. With a small smile on his face he asked us again which glass contained more water. We correctly answered that it was the big glass and some of us at that point caught on that both glasses were perfectly full.
Brother Edwin told us that the glasses represented our capacity for happiness and that two very happy people could have different capacities for it but once full, neither would be happier than the other.
Since that time I have come to somewhat modify Brother Edwin’s lesson by thinking that if two people of equal capacity have different approaches to happiness there can be a crucial difference.
It was about a year when I invited my wayward granddaughter, Rebecca, then 15, to a chat at Starbucks. I told her that two people could have two different approaches to life. One could seek happiness while the other contentment. I further told her that those who seek contentment can be satisfied with less and suffer less stress. And because their goals are smaller they may achieve contentment. Those of us (I include myself in this category) who seek happiness must compete, fight, study, perfect to excel. We suffer stress and disappointment. Our goal is almost always not reached. I asked Rebecca if she wanted to be happy or content. She answered that she wanted to be happy. I told her that I was not sure which of the two the “better” goal was.
Of late Brother Edwin’s glass has suffered a further modification. I see the glass as the glass of memory and experience. We are born as an empty slate or, why not, an empty glass. We fill it with experience, skills, memory, failures, remembrances, passions, love and, yes moments of contentment and despair.
Then when we die, when the glass cannot be filled any more, death picks up the glass and shatters it against the wall. Christmas can be happy. And it is. But it is also a time to reflect and in particular to think of friends gone and of moments that can only be shared with one's memory.
Those who are left remember the moments had, figuratively, picking up the shards from the floor. But the glass cannot ever be put together again nor filled with its original contents. Finally all memory is no more.
Of late I have posited to myself the justification, as an example, to spend $50 to go to a wonderful concert of festive Bach cantatas when one is so close to filling the glass. Would it be better to stay at home? Why am I reading books every night, watching films, and wondering how my roses will survive more years of shade?
Perhaps the answer is a question that the newborn babe (the empty glass) cannot ask, "Should I live and learn or speed, as of now, to that inevitable end and make it all that much easier?"
Unfortunately Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. is dead and I cannot consult him to weigh in. But I think he would say, “Alex, read that book.”