Glass-Half-Full: Counting My Blessings
By Ken K. Gourdin
Perhaps this will be an appropriate follow-up to “Suicidal, But Sane.” How much do we take for granted? Professor Dan Peterson, professor of Arabic and of Islamic studies at Provo, Utah’s, Brigham Young University, points out on his blog Sic et non at Patheos that even many people in the first world of relatively modest means are capable of a depth and of a breadth of human experience that people in former ages could scarcely fathom. His post can be found here (last accessed September 19, 2017): http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2017/08/orbis-non-sufficit.html#disqus_thread.
Most of Verdi’s contemporaries never heard his great operas or other musical works. Most of Shakespeare’s contemporaries never saw his marvelous plays. Most of Picasso’s contemporaries never saw his wondrous works of art. Want to listen to some of history’s great music? Want to experience great literature? Want to view its most notable works of art? All of this and more is literally at one’s fingertips, a few key strokes and/or a few mouse clicks away. Too poor to own your own computer? No problem. Simply take a trip to your local library.
Though the tone of Dan’s post is wistful—lamenting, due to limits in human cognition, perception, mortal lifespan, and so on—what he will never see and what he will never experience (the works of future Verdis, of future Shakespeares, of future Picassos, and so on), my reply takes a “glass-half-full-rather-than-half-empty” approach: Limited though it has been, where I, personally have traveled; the variety of food I have eaten; the variety of cultures I have experienced; and the variety of art, literature, and other such things I have seen, read, and otherwise experienced, has been virtually unparalleled in human history.
If I’m in the mood for Mexican cuisine, or for Indian cuisine, or for Middle Eastern cuisine, I can satisfy much of what my palate might be craving by visiting establishments which are all within a few blocks of my apartment in Pleasant Grove, Utah. If I don’t feel like leaving the apartment (though that does limit my options somewhat, as not all of these establishments deliver), (relatively) authentic Chinese or Italian cuisine is but a few keystrokes and/or a few mouse clicks, and/or a simple telephone call away.
Through most of recorded history, a person’s ability to see anything with his own eyes or to experience anything firsthand has been limited to what exists within a few miles (at most, a few dozen miles) of his own home. While I’ve done much of my traveling on someone else’s dime, I’ve visited, off-hand, eleven U.S. states (and there are probably more my quick count and short memory are missing); Mexico (a number of times, from “Hey, as long as we’re here, let’s cross the border—simply to say we did it” to studying abroad and visiting or staying in several Mexican states and in 18 Mexican cities in a 34-day whirlwind tour; and Europe (Spain for a little over a week and Italy for a little over two).
Given enough resources, I could visit virtually anywhere in the world within a matter of a few hours (within a day or two, at most) and could see virtually anything with my own eyes—and even if I cannot do so in person, thanks to modern technology, I can do so remotely, cutting out otherwise-necessary travel time and doing so virtually instantaneously. Johnson Oatman, who I mention in my reply below, wrote the Christian hymn, “Count Your Blessings,” the chorus of which counsels, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.” I replied:
I admire the breadth of your experience (limited though it has been, as you point out). For all that I think, at times, my own life might leave to be desired, I, too, have had a breadth of experience which has been virtually unparalleled in human history: I’ve seen the ruins of ancient Rome with my own eyes; I’ve climbed El Pirámide del Sol at Teotihuacán MX; I have been swimming with sharks off of the coast of Hawai’i and lived to tell about it (I was in a nice, safe cage, although, given my would-be chosen profession, I would have been safe anyway: You’ve heard that old joke, haven’t you? “Why don’t sharks eat lawyers? Professional courtesy.” While I’m on that subject, I just thought up a new punchline: “Why don’t sharks eat lawyers? C’mon, man! Even sharks have standards!”) I’ve seen Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia [Cathedral in Barcelona, Spain], others of his brilliant works, and the monastery at Montserrat with my own eyes; I’ve seen the lighthouse at Makapu’u Point, Hawai’i; I’ve heard a live performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” and of other great musical works; I’ve read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and other works of great literature; I’ve eaten authentic Chinese, Greek, Mexican, Spanish, Italian, and other fare (the latter three while visiting their countries of origin); I have performed (as part of a large group in both cases, of which it must be said that I was least among its members) at the same venue at which well-known celebrities have sung and have otherwise performed with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square (a venue which if it isn’t already, will become known as one of Utah’s great halls) …
I could go on. I’ve been feeling a bit melancholy of late, as though my life lacks a broader meaning and purpose. It’s too easy to focus on what I don’t have. I’ve now decided that, whatever it may lack, if I were to die tomorrow, it’s been a great life! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to take Johnson Oatman’s advice.