Souvenirs of the good life

November 9, 2009 | 38 comments

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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38 Comments

  1. Lina

    Fantastic post. In the same way, and for the same reasons, I want to buy a big, sturdy kitchen table when I get married – and then let it collect all those nicks and scratches and dents that tell the story of years of living, loving, family.

  2. Bethany Hudson

    Beautiful reminder, Jen.

  3. selah

    You are so right and I have been guilty of the same. Trying to find fulfillment in any but Christ is a futile pursuit. Thanks for the reminder of what is most important.

  4. Kris

    Awesome post! You have found true happiness!

  5. Eliz

    How many people would admit that that is why they haven't had children, or any more children – because they don't want anyone messing up their stuff? I know that's what I once thought. The other day my husband and I were noting how there was barely a piece of furniture in our house without a mark, a mar, a ding or a rip, something that would have sent us over the edge a few years ago. It's so sad to think we almost missed the point of it all.

  6. MahoneyMusings

    This is a brilliant post.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Loretta S.

    Jen – you briefly mentioned your husband in this post. I love hearing your conversion stories, but I am VERY interested to hear about how his worked. Did it happen at the same time? Are you in the same place spiritually speaking? Does he cherish his faith as much as you do? My spouse is not in the same place I am, and it causes me a little sadness. I'd love to hear about your guy.

  8. Elizabeth

    Wonderful! And it doesn't hurt that wine is one of those "amazingly Catholic" things in this world! What a beatiful way to look at the "things" in our lives 🙂

  9. Abbey

    Absolutely beautiful! I learn something new and wonderful every day … today, it came from you!

    Blessings,
    Abbey

  10. Kimi

    Recently I've been feeling strong desires to travel and worried that if I don't do it now I'll never go. We want kids soon, and it seems like right now in our mid twenties EVERYBODY is going somewhere-so just reading your blog gave me a good glimpse of what all that traveling would really bring-thank you for your insight.

  11. Kimi

    I recently have been battling in my mind about to go or not (to Europe).

    And I'm frustrated because I feel like it's all my own selfish, worldly desires that would motivate my decision to go.

    So thank you for your insight about what really matters, it only confirms my prayers this morning.

  12. JaneC Duquette

    Now it reminds you of many happy experiences including the trip to get it. It also foretells the fun you will have in the future. Before it was all in the past, now it is both past, present and future. It is wonderful how much real joy there is in Christ.

  13. Chat Line

    Wow nice post I love reading it. thanks for sharing this

  14. tootie

    Wow. Such a simple message, but I never thought of it that way before. You have given me a lot of food for thought! Thanks for another thought-provoking post!!

  15. Betty Beguiles

    I just love this, Jen! I'm bookmarking it to reread on those days when I feel regret that I did not travel or experience more before having children. That voice is actually not of God, though sometimes I forget that. Thank you for allowing the Holy Spirit use you to remind me of that. 🙂

  16. Fr. Christian Mathis

    Very true Jennifer! Thank you for the post.

  17. Carl

    Wonderful, wonderful post!

  18. Ann Elizabeth

    Loved this post. I've been lurking for a few weeks and your blog is without a doubt my absolute favorite. As a cradle Catholic I find your story SO beautiful. My husband is not Catholic (but Christian) and does not see the beauty and majesty in the Catholic church. I too would love to hear more of his conversion story.

  19. Melissa

    Jennifer, what a beautiful post, thanks so much for sharing. As I'm winding down from a busy day with my 2yr-old and 2 mth-old sons, your post serves as a wonderful reminder of what life is truly about – to love, know and serve God. We too enjoyed a cool kid-free life for years, and now it seems all I do is wipe those cute little bums. Still, my life is so much richer than it's ever been. God bless!

  20. Judith

    Thanks for the post. It's true: people matter more than things; love is more enduring — and more important –than stuff. Or "experiences" that focus us on ourselves.

  21. RFP

    Your post about the worn wine glass reminded me of THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, by Margery Williams.

    "The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

    "What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

    "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

    "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

    "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

    "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

    "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

  22. Julia

    Many times I feel like I'm missing out as I don't feel that I've accomplished grand things "out there" and having had more kids in my late thirties (and God willing will have more in my early 40s)I feel I'll never get to do "exciting", "important" things as I've always dreamed. This post makes me feel better and helps me to see that I am already doing grand, exciting, important things. Thanks.

  23. jird

    What a lovely post. It's true for many things in our lives.

    Last Christmas my aunt gave me a lovely quilt hand-stitched by my late grandmother, in pristine condition. It was probably the best gift I've ever gotten. Yet, two weeks later, it was on the couch covering up a sick child that might at any moment barf all over it. I thought briefly about replacing it with something else, then thought that my grandmother would way rather see her great-grandson sleeping under it (risk of barf or not), than see it kept out of reach and out of use to "preserve" it.

  24. johannal

    What a great post! As my husband and I journey into Catholicism I am amazed at how much joy I now take in my daily life. I know that God has changed my outlook and keeping my eyes on Him has given me more joy than anything I thought I wanted previously.

  25. amy

    I am new to your blog and am blown away by the clarity and honesty with which you write. Each post I have read has really spoken to my heart.

    Thank you.

  26. Jane D.

    lovely, beautifully written, thank you, my husband and I have travelled since getting married, though always with the Lord with us, now we really enjoy showing the children the places we have been. Theres no problem with travelling but as you say if you do not do it in the right spirit it is worthless.

  27. Kathleen@so much to say, so little time

    What a great reminder that the THINGS we accumulate don't define our life!

  28. Barb

    Never put more beautifully!

  29. Laurie

    I deeply appreciate your blog. It's a gift that you display your journey so honestly and thoughtfully. I like to refer both believing and non-believing friends this way, knowing that they will leave having something to think about. Thank you.

  30. Renee

    I joke quite a bit (yet seriously), because we don't do 'COoL' stuff either even though my local government consistently promotes such things to revitalize the city (Lowell Massachusetts). I put the word cool in quotations, because that's exactly the term 'Cultural Organization of Lowell'. The city subsidizes countless dollars on arts and performances, no one locally personally sees or does, yet in hopes to people like the your-previous-selves to come fly to Boston and visit Lowell, because you know Jack Kerouac was born here. The city hope you would buy some art, from artists who relocated here for the tax incentives, and hope you would go to a fancy restaurant that no one locally could afford. You would of probably of seen me with my four children, two in Catholic uniforms and one if not two of the younger crying while we walked home from school. You would then take a picture of me (a local), and with much pity probably make commentary about the Catholic Church and birth control.

    Think about it, you're one of the locals now. That's makes you really cool. Tourists would travel thousands of miles to just take your photograph, because of your happiness found right in your little town that makes you rather exotic to many people.

  31. Anonymous

    Brilliant writing!
    In the same place in our lives….years of collecting great stuff- moments watching them destroyed, and loving it. Barbequing for 25 friends and their 39 kids at our home! The kids knocked down an expensive Specimen Palm Tree, hand prints all over every inch of the house, and of course, broken wine glasses. These are the best things about life. Its all about HOW we live our life and the PROCESS. Paying more attention to the adjectives and the verbs and less attention to the nouns.

    The Floods

  32. Anonymous

    I heard someone say recently that actually, when you have children it really does expand your life.

    These are new human beings who will develop their own interests and hobbies (music or sport for instance), and you end up learning about things you may never have paid attention to, and traveling, just because of your children.

    Then they grow up and you travel to visit your children, then your grandchildren…

    Sure, you can't just up and fly to wherever for the weekend on a whim when you have little kids, but you have relaxed saturday mornings with laughter and tickles and stories and little people just loving you, and somehow not seeing all your failings.

    Do airports and hotel check-ins and trying to get your moneys worth out of a place in five minutes compare in any way to that?

  33. Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin

    Jen,
    you seem to have grasped St. Therese of Liseaux's Little Way: that the important thing is to do all things, no matter how small, with great love.

  34. Joyful Catholic

    So many of our wine tasting glasses have broken…we have tile counter tops and sometimes they're known to drop out of the cupboard, or out of a slippery hand when washing. I guess what comes to me is, life is to be LIVED to the full, just as Jesus said. I was sad that so many are gone now, but we'd not have room if every one was still around. Like the Natural…"they come and they go, Hobbs, they come and they go." and it's really quite alright. All is well. "Clink"

  35. monica_divineoffice.org

    This is one more great post of yours. I'm happy for your change in perspective. God bless!

  36. Hope

    I have tingles and goosebumps right now. Thank you for such an inspiring post.

  37. Ellen

    This is a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing this.

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