by Father Mark Goldasich
Last Monday afternoon, I got some great news at the Leaven. And I reacted as any normal person wouldn’t: by grousing!
After asking, “What is wrong with you today?” the staff strongly encouraged me to nail down — immediately — my summer vacation plans, since I obviously need a break.
Reflecting on my grouch- iness, I was reminded of a homily that I gave just a couple of weeks ago. One of the things that I’ve always liked about the solemnity of the Ascension is that it re- minds me of the need to “rise above” the negative and de- structive habits and attitudes in my life and get a different view — a God’s eye view, so to speak — of the situation.
In the Scriptures, a mountain usually represents a place where people encounter God. For example, Moses goes up the mountain to get the Ten Commandments and Jesus is transfigured on a mountaintop. Way too many times in my life, I forget to go to the mountain and instead find myself mired in mud in the valley.
I did, however, have a “mountain experience” that I mentioned in my Ascension homily. I was reading an article by Connie Schultz in the May 25 issue of Parade magazine. She wrote about what she would say to graduating seniors and quoted something from Kurt Vonnegut’s book, “A Man Without a Country,” which I had read ages ago but totally forgot about.
Vonnegut writes: “But I had a good uncle, my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life-insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed when they were happy.
“So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
What a great philosophy of life: stop to notice happiness and say, “if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
When I got home from The Leaven on Monday, I immediately poured myself a big glass of Simply Lemonade, took a big gulp, smacked my lips and said, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
Then I reflected on my day from an “Uncle Alex” perspective.
Recalling the good news received by The Leaven, instead of grousing, I now said, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
I thought about having a roof over my head, food in the refrigerator, air conditioning, running water and electricity. I again repeated the refrain, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
I looked out the front window and noted what I so often take for granted: a lush green lawn, fluttering leaves on the trees, the songs of the birds, the antics of a couple of wild neighborhood rabbits, and the lingering evening light of summer days. And I repeated the refrain.
Seeing my car in the driveway, I thought how fortunate I am to own a car (let alone one that runs), to be able to afford gasoline and to have smooth roads to drive on. And I said, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
Realizing that I have my eyesight and hearing, that I’m able to walk and talk, and that I have a “hearty” appetite made me repeat the refrain again.
I talked to my mom that evening on the phone and thought about how blessed I am to have her living just down the street from me and in wonderful health for being 96 years old, and I whispered, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
Then I looked at the possessions that make life easier and more pleasant for me: the computer, shelves of books, music playing on the iPod, the Keurig coffee maker, even an electric tooth- brush. And I thought of the refrain once more.
I pondered the friends I have, the great people I work with, the parish I’m privileged to serve — one after another, a cascade of unde- served blessings came to mind. All I could do is look to heaven, smile and pray, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
How about you? If you need a refreshing sight for eyes that may have become sore from crabbiness, impa- tience or cynicism, try Uncle Alex’s philosophy. It’s scary how well it works.
By the way, after telling my staff that I’d just sched- uled my vacation days, I could have sworn someone whispered, “If that isn’t nice . . .”