The water glass
Published 7:00 am Saturday, May 7, 2016
Phyllis was always a troubled and troubling person. As a child, her parents divorced when she was seven and the perpetual absence of her father engendered a perpetually sour disposition. In her teens, Phyllis was never popular, or part of the “cool” crowd, and withdrew into herself and her often dour moods. Later in life, she had three failed marriages, essentially becoming estranged from her children and in her anger was, deservedly, alone.
Now quite elderly, frail and bound to a wheelchair in a nursing home, the chronic misanthrope was as nasty to everyone as ever. The caregivers often stayed away, providing only the perfunctory ministrations for her care, before quickly retreating from the room. After several roommates, they knew the only way to keep peace was to have her be alone, and so she was, so very much alone.
One afternoon, Phyllis rang the buzzer and demanded a cold glass of water. An aide soon dutifully appeared and placed the cup on the table near the bed. Gazing into the cup, Phyllis grimaced and, with an angry snarl, snorted, “I told you I wanted a cup of water and it should have been full! As any idiot can see, it is half empty. Now, go a fill it up.”
Clearly, Phyllis was not a happy person and her circumstances were dictated, mostly, by her own view of life. Oh yes, she had experienced several harsh blows in this world, as had many others. Her actions were not due to any mental illnesses, only outlook. Yet, in this life’s journey, she had never found any real joy, any real peace. Perpetually, it was her paradigm, her mindset on life, which created the misery she found within herself and, regrettably, she was unable to see beyond herself.
When we look at the world, and our place in it, our paradigms may be askew too. Perhaps we look at everything in our own water glasses as being “half-empty,” rather than “half-full.” The differentiation is important, as we look with dismay, or gratitude, towards we what have, or lack.
If we really get down to it, when it comes to our needs, we require three things: food clothing, and shelter. Food is, as Euell Gibbons used to promote, “wild hickory nuts.” Clothing could be animal skins, or vegetable matter. Shelter could be under a rock, or in a cave. Everything else is, as we say in the South, “gravy.” Of course, if we have only the minimal elements, our lives would be vastly shortened and far less pleasant. It is, by the abundant grace of God, and in this extraordinary country, a miraculous abundance for us all.
What makes the difference is not what we have, but what we perceive as what we need. The half-empty glass folks are continually seeking the other half of what is absent and angry about it. On the other hand, the half-full glass folks are already appreciative of the presence of the water in the first place.
We all, in our own ways, may have a bit of the “Phyllis” condition, being projected from our own personalities. We may have days when our glass is half-empty, or we feel it is our turn to get, rather than give. It is in our nature to do so, but we are called to do otherwise, by Faith.
The line between the two perceptions of being half-full, or half-empty, is most thin. It is our perception of the level itself, which may be in error. All of our biases, prejudices, experiences and genetics give each of us an individual view of the world and, begrudgingly, we may be wrong in our analysis of the actual level in the glass.
It is a tough reality to acknowledge.
Our solution, for all of our confusions, is to seek guidance from a greater power than ourselves. We explore and accept the message of God, delivered to us by the eternal optimist, Jesus Christ, through and with the power of the Holy Spirit, as we gaze into the glass of the renewing and refreshing Water of Eternal Life.
It is only here where we discern the true levels of the paradigms of our lives, our just place with our Creator and better relationship with humankind.
By Father Jonathan Filkins