My wife and I had a lovely dinner last night in our backyard. She made homemade pesto from our basil plant in our flourishing garden (we also have three different kinds of tomatoes, six stalks of corn, radishes, squash and lemon cucumbers growing abundantly there). Then she grilled some chicken breasts, sliced them up and placed them on top of some gnocci and tossed the whole thing in the aforementioned pesto. She tossed a salad (also with fresh goodies from the garden), heated some focaccia bread and brewed some iced tea. I set the metal and glass, antique table back there and we dined under the stars. Well, it wasn't quite dark yet, but you get my meaning. The horses were a few yards away and the puppies were sitting patiently near the table watching with culinary fascination the way dogs will. While eating we casually discussed our hopes, dreams, and plans. And in the middle of it I suddenly realized what a perfect, uncompromised life I was leading.
I had a buddy when I lived in New York who used to always say, "In New York everyone yearns for three things...the perfect job, the perfect apartment and the perfect relationship. The rule is, you can only have two of the three at one time in this city."
As I sat in the waning dusk last night, eating the perfect meal with the perfect wife in the backyard of our perfect house it occured to me that I may have broken the sound barrier at last. And that's the trick. To realize you've done it.
Now it would be easy to be maudlin about this realization, but that's not what happens. As the old song goes, 'It's a quiet thing.'
Gratitude is a very important part of my life. It has to be. The alternative is simply too dreadful. Oh, I sometimes go days, even weeks, without proper gratitude. It's just who I am. It's part of my make-up. So sometimes I have to make a conscience effort to push myself into gratitude mode.
Of course, being grateful is not the same as being satisfied. We're human, all of us, and we're always wondering what's over the next hill, around the next bend, on the other side of the forest. And we plan for it, for all the contingencies that may or may not happen.
For example, my wife and I live in a very nice little house in a very nice little neighborhood. But there's a big house on a lot of property not too far from us that I always fantasize about. "If only we lived there..."
And I am currently smack dab in the middle of two large and explosive writing projects, projects that are paying me very nicely with money that make our life more than comfortable, projects that will, in due time, make quite a splash, hopefully, in this silly world of show-biz in which I find myself living. And yet, now and then, I still get a little resentful that past writing hasn't landed me in better stead. That old devil, envy, sets in.
And sometimes, and I'm only being honest here, I meet someone casually, or I see someone on the street, someone staggeringly attractive, perhaps, and I think to myself fleetingly, what if I were with that person, what if I had hitched my wagon to that star? And then I see my wife, my perfect match and, what's more, my soul mate, and I am astonished at myself for even thinking something like that.
All of these things ran through my mind briefly as we sat outside eating our inostentatious, peasant Italian meal, breaking good bread and talking to each other in unhurried, gentle conversation.
Being content and being satisfied are two different things, I think. I wallow in my contentment sometimes. But I am rarely, if ever, satisfied.
And this extends to not only personal ambitions. No, not at all. I'd like people to step out of my way and let me fix the world, or at the very least, let me fix the small things in the world. And I'm always a little surprised when they won't.
Of course, this is part of my make-up, part of who I am, this desire to be not only the actor in the play, but to direct, design, light and produce, too. Sometimes, I'm sure, this submerged egomania on my part is less than flattering. I manage to hide it sometimes, not always, but sometimes, and people generally are probably not aware of the raging control freak existing right beneath my skin. But it's there and usually only my wife hears my ridiculous ideas about how to control everyone and everything and make everything better for everyone involved.
I suppose this is not as unusual as I tend to make it out, this driving need to tell everyone how to do things and how to live a better life. And make no mistake, in reality I don't know any of these things. I'm fully aware of this on some level. But it doesn't stop me from feeling that way. It doesn't stop me from occasionally allowing the 'asshole' gene to surface. It doesn't stop the unattractive pompousness living nefariously within me to fight tooth and nail to emerge.
The good thing is, with age does, indeed, come wisdom. At least in some small portion. Maybe wisdom is not even the right word. Maybe 'trial and error' is better. I have made nearly every mistake imaginable on my journey to sit in this chair, at this keyboard, in this house, next to this perfect mate. I even made up mistakes that weren't yet recorded in the history of the world. I set new records for making mistakes. But, fortunately for people like me, I have an uncanny ability to pretend they never existed, that they were never made, that I have a perfect win/loss record, so as to allow me to make them over and over again in my mind.
This ambition, this desire for more, this inability to be satisfied is not always a bad thing, of course. It can be, I think, if allowed to overwhelm everything else in one's life. But if properly managed, it's just another part of the puzzle, another part of just getting by.
I reemember an Oscar broadcast many years ago. The winner of the Best Documentary Award were two exiled German Jews, two individuals no one had ever heard of, lucky souls who had escaped the Holocaust and then, years later, made a documentary about it. A man and a woman. The man took the microphone first and thanked yet another group of people no one had ever heard of and we all used this time to get some more pizza or another beer or some more buffalo wings as we waited for the stars in the big categories to be announced. Then the woman took the mike and said something very simple. She said, "I'd like to thank God for allowing me to understand how beautiful it is to have a nice dinner with someone you love on a quiet night in your own house. For allowing me to not know pain and want and horror. For allowing me to understand gratitude."
At the time (and still today for that matter) her little acceptance speech made a profound impact on me. I've thought about it many times over the years, especially when the chips were down and my life seemed perpetually out of control. It made me realize how very close we all are to catastrophe, to terrible and accidental monsters, to unplanned hardship, to loss and grief. And how unspeakably lucky some of us are to have a nice dinner with someone we love on a quiet night in our own house.
What a huge thing that is.
See you tomorrow.