When you were young, did you ever scour the Sears, JC Penney or other Christmas catalogs, dog-earing pages, circling wishes, and telling your parents, “All I want for Christmas is…” followed by a long prioritized list? Ah, I was that greedy child but at least knew that nobody got all they wanted.
As my Connecticut house-sitting ‘retreat’ closes, with luck by the end of this week, I find myself again earmarking wants: more busyness with chores and interaction with people, cushy chairs instead of metal folding, bed-sheets and blankets instead of the confines of a sleep bag, clothing variety instead of the same washed over and over, and home cooking instead of refrigerator or microwave foods. Which of these wants took first priority?
That I discovered a few days ago during one of our ‘I miss you’ phone-calls with my husband. When he told me that he had made himself ham, eggs and toast for breakfast that morning, I whimpered longingly in a childish voice, “Toast. Eggs and toast.” Were eggs and toast really all I wanted? Remembering a scene from The Screwtape Letters, I went back to reread that selection in C.S. Lewis’ book.
As Screwtape, Lewis made the distinction between gluttony of Excess (traditional greed) and gluttony of Delicacy, what Lewis called the ‘All-I-want’ state of mind. To quote Lewis’s description of such a person, “All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never finds anyone who can do things ‘properly’ – because her ‘properly’ conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatal pleasures which she imagines she remembers from the past…”
Were homebrewed Dunkin Donuts Hazelnut coffee, fresh scrambled eggs and toast really all I wanted? Or, given that I already had more than I really needed, was I asking the wrong question? Other than overseeing repairs and the sale of my mother’s house, what was I supposed to be doing during this retreat?
I took Heathcliff for a walk on the big lawn, snapped a picture of the downed maple tree to email to my mother, visited one of her longtime friends, and called my lonely husband, assuring him that I would be home soon. Perhaps these few things were all they wanted from me.
What do you want?