Last week I noticed that one of our nice wine glasses is getting worn. When I picked up the paper-thin Riedel Vinum that my husband and I got when we visited Erath Vineyards back in 2002, I noticed that the logo was beginning to fade — and, oddly, I smiled.
My own reaction caught me off guard. This was one of about fourteen glasses we have from the various wineries we visited back in our travel days, and I’ve spent years carefully protecting them so that we could have perfectly-preserved reminders of all those great moments in tasting rooms throughout the world. It seemed like my reaction should have been to rush the glass off to a secluded shelf somewhere to prevent further wear and tear; instead, I poured in a little cabernet sauvignon and sat down with my husband to have a lively post-kid-bedtime chat about our days.
As we laughed and talked, I kept catching glimpses of that worn logo. Finally, I figured out why it filled me with warmth to see the wear and tear on this glass:
Because this would not have happened before our conversion.
Had we stayed on the track we were on instead of converting to Catholicism, this wine glass would be safely tucked away in a cabinet somewhere, the pristine letters of the logo looking not a bit different than the day we took it from the tasting room. The wear and tear on the glass was deeply symbolic of how our outlook on life has changed since our conversion — and how much better our lives are because of it.
Happiness and “Bucket Lists”
The way I used to see it, life was measured by the number and type of experiences you had, how many cool things you did. Like most people, I had a “bucket list, ” a collection of experiences I wanted to have and things I wanted to do before I died. Mine was actually in Excel spreadsheet form, broken down by five-year, 10-year, 20-year and longer-term goals. The way I saw it, the more items a person could cross off their bucket list, the better life they would have.
When my husband and I first started dating, we crossed a lot of things off of our lists. We took one first-class flight after another to various parts of the world, often choosing our travel destinations based on vineyards we wanted to visit since we both loved wine. We ate at countless fancy restaurants, visited great cultural sites, explored new parts of the world and had the thrill of walking into the headquarters of distant wineries whose products we’d been drinking at home. And yet, throughout all this, I never felt any more satisfied with my life than before we started traveling; if anything, I think I felt less satisfied as I continually discovered new places I wanted to visit and new experiences I wanted to have.
The more cool stuff we did, the more I became aware of the frustrating truth that all of these things were fleeting. I’d be gazing at the majestic Andes from the balcony of the Argentinean winery Bodega Norton, soaking in the moment…and then the thought that we had to pack our bags and go home in three days would pop into mind like a lead balloon. As one second ticked by after another getting me closer to the moment when this cool experience would be no longer, I would think about how the only lasting thing I had from these moments were my memories.
And so the wine glasses were important. They were tangible pieces of my good experiences; and since having good experiences was the meaning of life, they were very valuable. I would occasionally open our kitchen cabinet to see it crammed full of wine glasses imprinted with the names of wineries from all over the world, and I would feel confident that I had a good life. I must, after all — look at all this proof of the fun experiences I had!
A New Outlook
After I became a Christian, my outlook changed. Thanks to Christian teaching, I came to see quality of life as measured not by the number of fun things you do, but by how much you love — period. I came to believe that even if you lived your whole life in the same small town, if you took every opportunity to open yourself to love — even to people you didn’t like, even when it felt uncomfortable — that your life would be not only better but even more exciting than someone who spent her life jet-setting around to exotic destinations all over the world in pursuit of experiences.
I deleted that “bucket list” goals spreadsheet, and my husband and I stopped spending so much time thinking about how we could do cool stuff and started thinking about how we could better serve God at each moment by loving the people around us right here, right now. Sure enough, I found that “fun, ” in and of itself, doesn’t last; but love does. I finally started to feel that lasting satisfaction I’d been searching for in all the travel and parties and fancy winery tours.
And, somewhere along the way, we started getting those wine glasses out.
Instead of letting them collect dust as we clung to memories of fun experiences gone by, we’d get out these souvenir glasses, the nicest we owned, to celebrate the little opportunities to love in daily life such as long, interesting conversations at the the end of another crazy week or the chance to toast friends who came over for a pizza dinner. And with all the life in our house, the glasses started getting some serious wear and tear. The Clos Pegase glass got broken when my mom was doing dishes when I was in the hospital with baby Joy; the base of the Ferrari-Carano one got chipped when the neighbor girls were playing at the sink with my kids; the Concha y Toro glass we brought back from Santiago got cracked during some dinner with friends where there were about eight kids under age seven running around; and I’ve started just throwing them in the dishwasher since life is so full and busy that I never have time to wash them by hand.
I realized as I looked at my worn Erath glass last week that it still represents the most important thing in life to me, but now for different reasons. Before I valued it because it was a static symbol, a dusty representation of a cool personal experience gone by; now I valued it because it was a tool for truly rich living, something we used as part of connecting with and loving fellow human beings in everyday life.
Christianity taught me that life is not a measure of how much you do, but how much you love. And as I look at my faded wine glass, its letters etched away during toasts made in friends’ honor over the sounds of giggly children, quiet moments by the fireplace at the end of a long week, hot summer nights with family members laughing and talking around the grill, I think that the more the name of that luxury vineyard gets worn off, the better life I’ve lived.
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