I wish life lessons stuck with me as permanently as have the multiplication tables. Six times eight is forty-eight: I learned that in fourth grade and haven’t forgotten it since.
Remembering that I mustn’t be greedy, on the other hand, is a lesson I seem to have to relearn every day.
Case in point was today when, returning from Heber, I stopped at Jordanelle State Park to birdwatch. It was a beautiful fall morning, but I saw few birds and not one new species for my list. (I didn’t think I was asking for much. I’ve only photographed about a quarter of the common species here in Utah, so a nighthawk or an eagle or a loon of any kind – all of which have been spotted at the reservoir – would have counted.)
The minutes ticked by and I saw nothing worth photographing. I got annoyed, then scolded myself for being greedy. Couldn’t I just appreciate the warm sun, crisp air and time with nature? After all, I can’t expect every outing to be a gold-letter day as far as photography is concerned. Enjoy the beauty of the moment, I told myself, but myself wouldn’t listen.
Grumbling, I headed back to the car. Along the way I picked up some trash. Maybe, I told myself as I put the bottles in the dumpster at the trailhead, maybe God gave me the chance to clean up that section of the path to remind me that I’m here on this earth to do good, not just to take everything he can give.
That train of thought brought to mind my recent column about being greedy, in which I acknowledged that I tend to want God to give me everything without me having to work for it. My example was an afternoon of birding that resulted only in a photograph of a Steller’s jay in silhouette, taken against the sky at sundown. I ended that column by saying I’d learned my lesson, and yet at Jordanelle Reservoir there I was again, complaining that I wasn’t given enough. It brought to mind the line from St. Augustine of Hippo’s “Confessions,” his prayer that God “grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”
That quote may have popped into my head because I just finished Augustine’s famous autobiography as an assignment for my philosophy class. The context of the quote is important: The saint had sought happiness along various paths since he was a teenager. He finally settled on the God of the Catholic Church as the true source of happiness, and he realized that to fully devote himself to God he would need to give up his mistress and become celibate. However, it took him months to go from the acknowledgement that “it would be better to give myself to Your love rather than go on yielding to my own lust” to actually surrendering to the celibate life demanded of him.
As I drove into Salt Lake for the Sunday evening Mass, I wondered if I will ever make the leap from the intellectual knowledge to the heartfelt belief that to be truly happy I will need to accept what God gives.
I arrived at the cathedral before the Spanish Mass let out, which meant no parking was to be found anywhere nearby. With the sun still shining, I decided to extend my outdoors experience at City Creek Canyon. And there, not 400 yards from the trailhead, I heard the unmistakable squawking of a jay. I raised my camera just as the bird landed on the ground and picked up an acorn. Unlike two weeks ago, the photo I took today clearly shows every detail of the jay, but the reason I thanked God was because he makes it so easy for me to see when he’s giving me an A on my homework.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic.