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How rich are you?

Rich Mayfield

A long hike by a beautiful river serves as a gentle reminder of one of life’s more painful lessons: All is not what it seems.

The cascading waters offer a tantalizing invitation to dip and drink deep from its bounty, but those of us who have fallen for the enticement can tell horror stories of ugly bouts of giardia lamblia, an intestinal affliction that causes cascades of another kind. The picturesque mountain stream hides an upsetting secret.

There have been countless occasions where, in the privacy of my office, visitors have confessed their disappointment with their own situation and their envy of another’s. Often the very object of their desire is known, by yours truly, to have disappointments of their own.

“If only I could have a husband like _________,” my visitor would sigh not knowing that Mrs. ____________ would probably give him up in a minute.

“Why can’t I have children like _____________,” a frustrated parent will lament, ignorant of the myriad of court appearances and hospital visits that idealized family has endured.

As long as there have been sages to sage, they have reminded us, in one way or another, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

Yet, at enormous personal cost, as well as deep and profound suffering, we continue to cast envious eyes on others, seeking to convince ourselves our lives could be so much better, if only we could live somebody else’s life.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Hollywood has built an empire on just such wishful thinking. (Curiously, it seems even those actively involved in this can get caught up in its deception, often trading houses or spouses for something better just across the fence.) Impressionable adolescents starve themselves into becoming another Brittany Spears. Teen-age boys risk their lives and the lives of others seeking to imitate the unprotected sexual conquests they see depicted constantly on the big screen. We, of the older and wiser population, act just as young and foolish convincing ourselves inner peace will be ours just as soon as we manage to get a few outer items rearranged.

It may be apocryphal but I’ve read a story of how, after President Kennedy’s inauguration, Richard Nixon mused to a friend there were some parts of the inaugural address he would have liked to have said himself. The friend asked, “Do you mean the part about “Ask not what your country can do for you … ?'” “No,” replied Nixon, “the part beginning “I do solemnly swear…'” Nixon was convinced that being president would fulfill his deepest desires and bring him ultimate happiness. What it actually brought was something very different indeed.

The Talmud reminds us, “We see things not as they are. We see things as we are.” Our self-delusions shape our reality, often leading us to an understanding of a reality that is anything but.

Still, there are exceptions. Many a man and woman have managed to make more than a little out of their lives ignoring my advice. I don’t know how John D. Rockefeller fared in the personal happiness department, but I do have it on good authority that when he was asked how much was enough, he replied, “Just a little bit more.” Who knows? It may have worked for old John D., although I doubt it. With his attitude, I suspect he was much poorer than most of us could ever imagine.

Rich Mayfield is pastor of the Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church and regular columnist for the Summit Daily News.


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