Dear Future Me,
I hope you are doing well. If everything has gone as we planned it over the years, by now, you’ve managed to pay a lot of your debts down. You have disposable cash. You might be ready to buy a place, or you might be socking it away, feeling it’s better to invest it. Whatever you are thinking with this new-found freedom, I think it’s easy to forget something that maybe you need to be reminded of from time to time. I know you can get offended when people give you hard advice, but remember that I say it in love. I love you like I love my own self.
I’m writing to you from about a month and a half into living in possibly the smallest place you’ve ever lived in with the largest family you’ve ever had. My neighbors are loud (and so is our family). There is a flight of stairs I always have to go up and down to get anywhere. And there are cockroaches who, in the midnight hour, try to take over my bathroom and kitchen.
And Jon, I say this in all honesty, it’s hard to think of a time when I’ve been happier. You were happy then. At this point life goals hadn’t been achieved yet. You were so deep in debt, that I imagine it has taken years for you to get where you are today. Olive is waking me up in the middle of the night – nearly every night – and I am happy. You are happy.
You know that you are living in an area that is, in general, flush with cash. Right now, in 2013, the Bay Area is officially the most expensive place to live in the country. You know how easy it is to look around you, see all this, and think that somehow you are missing out. But allow me to remind you that you’ve lived the high life and the low life. You’ve had more space than you’ve needed in the nicest neighborhood with a yard and quiet neighbors and you’ve lived in the smallest place in the hot summer with no dishwasher and parties going on till 10 every night – and both with children under 5. You may have forgotten over the years that here, in this little apartment, where you needed a rickety loft bed in the living room just to make it work, you were happy.
But this shouldn’t be surprising, right? Money has never had any impact whatsoever on your joy in life. Remember sitting on that bench in Central Park, watching the sunset, and having that epiphany? That was years before even now, before you ever met Ren and had kids. Studies even show that all that’s really needed is enough to pay the bills and maybe a couple of weeks off for vacation in the summer to make the average person fall down like a well-fed dog at the end of the day, smiling as he falls asleep, satisfied in body and soul.
But we both know simply having our physical needs met has never been enough either. So here is a little reminder for you of what got you through – in my case, getting you through – the most trying, difficult, exhausting season of you’re life as of August 1, 2013:
Going to Mass Try – really try – to think of a time you went to Mass and were not refreshed spiritually. I don’t know whether you’ve had spiritually dry times between where you are now and where I am writing this, but every time I go to Mass – whether on the weekend or midweek – I am renewed. God speaks to me what I need to here. I see the saints depicted in the windows, and I am reminded that I am not alone in trying to be an awkward but faithful Christian. A lot of people have walked harder paths than we have. This spiritual life is what grounds us. And nowhere is that spiritual life more grounded than in the Mass, where we take in and experience the real Presence of Christ all around us and in us. Don’t blow this off. It is the foundation of your joy in life, and you know it.
Do the Dishes I don’t mean literally – though it could mean literally. But take it as an overarching statement of all those little things you have to do during the day that keeps the house running, keeps your business humming, keeps your wife sane, and keeps the relationship you have with your kids going strong: doing the dishes, picking up toys, doing the laundry, really being present when you give music lessons, offering to take the kids for a couple hours and give Ren a break, etc. You think that it will drain you further, but I want to ask you, when has it really drained you? Do you walk away from playing puzzles with the kids and think, “Wow, I’m totally depressed!”, or do you have a kind of tired, yes, but also quiet peace at the end of the day? It’s like our spirit knows that we’ve done something right. Our days become full, but they are filled with all the things that make life rich.
I don’t know how you feel right now, but ask yourself, do you miss being where I am right now? Do you miss Olive squealing with delight when she sees you? Do you miss Jack following you around everywhere you go – even into the bathroom – because he wants to be with you so badly? Or Izzy trying to make a tunnel out of your two legs while you are standing in the kitchen? If you do, think of where they are now. How old are they? What do they do now that they won’t do in a few years, maybe when they are teenagers, or worse, when they’ve left the house altogether and it’s just you and Ren? I wonder sometimes… we look forward to the day when we will have time to do all the things we want to do – maybe travel or pursue different hobbies. I’m sure we’ll enjoy those times when they come. But I think we’ll miss these moments we’re having right now with a kind of bitter pang in the heart. Even with all the exhaustion, cherish them.
Give your wife what she says she needs – whether or not you think she needs it. Even setting aside the fact that she probably knows herself better than you do, a happy wife = a happy home. That’s probably the best advice Bryan ever gave us, right? Where I am right now, in 2013, is proof of this. I thought that moving here might be catastrophic. But it was what, deep down, she needed, and it was, therefore, the right decision. It’s a hard trade. Sometimes, for financial reasons or whatever, you need to do what doesn’t please your wife, but more often than not, you can pull this off. A lot of the time – maybe most of the time – admit it: you don’t want to give her what she wants because it keeps you from having your “alone time” or buying what you want to buy. But remember the previous two points: having things does not make you happy, and being away from your family doesn’t really make you happy, either. You need that time with God, but you can get that in the mornings or other hours that, most of the time, don’t impinge on family life. Try to meet her deep-seated needs. You’ll never make her completely happy. But she will always be a different woman when she gets what she needs.
Beyond those three things, I strain to think of anything that really fills your soul and brings you joy. Perhaps you’ve discovered other things over the years, but if you let any of those things take the place of these, you are probably going to sink yourself into a pit of despondency. You have before. We’ve given the statement “True joy is only found in loving God and loving others” lip-service in the past without really feeling it, but that’s not where we are anymore. We’ve been around long enough to know it’s really true.
So please, think twice when, with all this cash and all this free time you have, you think of dropping it into some vacation home, or a bathroom remodel, or a bigger place, or some random hobby. If these three things I mentioned are what bring you joy, maybe the best thing to do is drop it where these things will grow and flourish even more – extending them beyond even your own family. I can’t tell. I don’t know where you are in life. But I’m praying that God gives you wisdom to know what all of this means for you today. Your own today, whenever and wherever that is.