Cornucopia from Hell

12 12 2011

My sister has it made.  She’s got her six-figure income, her two kids, her three-story house on a hill, her luxury vehicles and a fantastic high-profile career.  Anything she wants, she buys, which makes Christmas a little tough on anyone, such as myself, who might try to buy her family presents.  Her kids have more toys than they can fit under the bed.  She makes so much money that her husband’s income was dwarfed, by comparison, so he stayed home to raise the kids and maintain the house.  My sister has everything but happiness.

I wish there were an easy answer.  So much depends on one person, her husband.  Why hold a job, when the income is superfluous?  By the same measure, why clean the pool, when they can easily hire someone to do it?  Maintaining the yard, and cooking breakfast, and nearly every household chore could be outsourced to hired help without putting a dent in the budget.  In fact, that’s exactly what they ended up doing.  It’s no wonder, then, that my brother-in-law spends so much time at home in a state of depression.  It’s no wonder that he cannot make her happy, when he, himself, cannot find happiness.

So he started a hobby.  He bought a very nice toy to play with.  Then, he bought a few more like it.  By now, I think he’s cornered the market on that line of toy.  He filled the walls of his office with these things, on shelves and hanging from pegs.  Then he made a makeshift partition and filled that, too.  Then he started hanging them from the ceiling.  His office now looks much like a beehive, covered in bees, except that instead of bees, they’re toys, and only one kind of toy.  He used to spend his hours playing with them.  Now he lies around feeling depressed.

I think of it as the principle of the new stick of gum.  When I put that gum in my mouth and chew it for the first time, it gives me a burst of fresh flavor.  It makes my mouth feel minty and fresh.  I should probably be chewing on one, now, to rid myself of the aftertaste of coffee, actually.  After about twenty minutes, the flavor is gone.  If I add another fresh stick of gum to the wad, it does, indeed, bring back much of that initial freshness, but the second stick never has the same effect as the first stick.  Twenty minutes after that, the double wad of gum is as vapid as the first ended.  We add a third fresh stick to the wad, and we bring back a little of the freshness, but not like the second stick, and nothing like the first.  Nothing beats the experience of the first.  Eventually, I choke and gag on the large rubbery disgusting ball of gum wedged firmly in my maw, and no more gum can do anything to make it any better than what it is.  There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Similarly, nothing beats the first love.  We, in the western world, appreciate the folly of polygamy, if only for the unfairness to the woman.  What’s most ironic about the situation is that the polygamist thinks himself rich for having so many wives.  If one wife is good, then two wives must be better, right?  The fact is, once that man marries a second wife, both of them put together can never equal the joy he might have had from just one marriage.  Every wife added only makes a family into a herd.  The freshness of true love dies to the staleness of mere numbers.

The paradox of attainment is that, believe it or not, most of the fun is in the anticipation, rather than the acquiring.  The planning and expectation of a reward is, possibly, less intense than the pleasure of buying that new toy or going on that vacation or having that party, but the planning lasts longer.  Twenty-five glorious days leading up to Christmas, filled with lights, eggnog and parties would seem far better than Christmas, itself.  By the day after Christmas, at least one toy is broken, and the others are already less interesting than originally expected, even if we get everything we hoped for.  And that tree is just a dead tree.

Kids used to get excited about simple toys, some fruit and nuts.  When I was a kid, we were overjoyed to get a box called an Atari, which made little squares move on the television.  Oh, that was so much fun playing games with those little icons that didn’t really look like anything.  Give one of those things to your kids and watch them cry for joy.  Well, maybe it wouldn’t be joy.  I’m not sure how, but I think they would find a way to ground you for life.  Every year, society makes fancier and fancier toys for us to play with.  Truth be told, the new toys don’t really make us any happier than the old toys did.  They just make it impossible for us to really enjoy the old toys anymore.  Sure, we can still afford all of the same stuff now that our parents could buy us back then, but no one wants that garbage anymore.  Just knowing that something better is out there makes us hate what we already have.  It’s the cornucopia from Hell.

Oh, I know how a rich man can be happy with his wealth.  Typically, the attempted solution is to spend that wealth into oblivion.  Michael Jackson would be a prime example.  No, the key is to be poor in spirit, if not reality.  You don’t buy it, just because you can.  You make it yourself, maintain it yourself and live like you can’t afford to do otherwise.  You afford yourself a few nice things, and live without the rest.  Limit yourself to a small portion of your own wealth.  Then, and this is the best part, you buy a Christmas for a family that can’t afford anything.  That one good thing is better than a pile, or a mountain, of such things.  Give yourself that one thing, and then give someone else one, too, who cannot afford it.  Life can be a series of first sticks of gum, and never a large tasteless wad.

Besides, it might give your brother a chance to buy you something that you like, something that you don’t already have.

I’m just saying….

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