The Seeds of Desire

Enslavement to the so-called American dream

Topics

Consumerism

They say Ken died of a heart attack working hard at what he loved, construction management. I had attended his Catholic marriage and recall the happy couple leaving the wedding reception, then standing together waiting in the hotel lobby to take the elevator to a honeymoon suite. But back then as I gazed upon them waiting there, I had misgivings about their union, maybe because I had for years mentored him as an engineer and knew him well.

Not long after their marriage, a deepening rift developed between them. Her income grew much higher than his. They followed the usual pattern for most couples in hot pursuit of the American dream: the SUV, the wide-screen TV, the luxury home, the chasing after fashionable illusions, and compounding stress from increasing debt. Despite their large annual income, they spent too much on vanities and saved too little for emergencies or retirement.

They had relegated their two children to second place, not the centerpiece of their life together. Hiring a nanny further distanced them. Their careers came first and had enslaved them: home late from work when the kids were asleep, a brief kiss, a hasty meal and a hug at bedtime, waking up to the same treadmill existence day after day.

Deprived of their parents’ nurturing warmth and attention, the children grew resentful and angry. The boy withdrew into his shell and became an unruly terror; he was eventually sent off to a military academy. The girl was needful of constant physical therapy for muscular dystrophy. The family seemed to have “the multiplication of sorrows” of Genesis 3:16.

With all these challenges, the happiness-ever-after fairy tale of marriage faded, and stress burdened their marriage to the breaking point. Lines of communication frayed so badly that they separated, then divorced, joining the ranks of couples with “irreconcilable differences.” Two years later, he was privately asking me for advice about his new live-in lady friend.

“Here’s her picture. Isn’t she gorgeous?” he gushed, after whipping out a snapshot. “She still has some problems from incest as a kid, which got her into a sick relationship with an abuser boyfriend. But she’s a reborn Christian now, and pulling away from that lifestyle,” he assured me.

“She looks like a movie star,” I said, at a loss for words. What could I say that would steer him clear of further suffering in his young life? He may have seen exasperation in my facial expression.

“I know what you’re thinking. But I want someone in my life who needs me,” he continued. “I don’t want to be alone, living like a hermit when I retire. Yeah, I’ve got my two kids, but it’s not the same as having a wife I can talk things over with, someone I can grow old with. Besides, she’s incredible in bed.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing. She’ll bring her own psychological baggage in hopes of unloading it on you. You think you can handle both hers and yours? One plus one doesn’t add up to two, but multiplies to four or more, after intersecting with each other’s mental complexes.”

“In time, I can help her… and myself,” he assured me. “Love conquers all.”

A business phone-call interrupted. He nodded and I left his office. His poignant statement, “I don’t want to be alone any more,” resonated within me. I had the same fear in my youth, deciding to devote my life to Christ by becoming either a priest or a secular monk. Would I be able to find joy if I stayed single? Does “happily-ever-after” mean I must have a significant other? I felt how a maiden’s beauty attracted me, knowing in time it would fade away. So I decided to avoid that agony and to spare myself the travails of the flesh (1 Cor 7:28) by courting the eternally young Lady Wisdom. It was for me the right thing to do.

A few days later, he told me his girlfriend had gone back to her old lover. He wanted to know how to handle his deep depression.

“From the seeds of desire springs all suffering.” I said nothing more.

My words stunned and silenced him for a moment, as he gazed up at the ceiling and tried to fathom that concept. He repeated my words, pondering them.

With a sheepish smile, he said, “I know, I know, but I can’t help myself.”

He admitted his enslavement and surrender to incessant desires. I saw the sorrow in his expression as he turned to walk back to his office. He knew deep down that he remained chained to endless business distractions and trivial pursuits.

I later retired and never saw him again. Through the grapevine I heard that his ex-wife remarried. I suspect when he heard, he suffered a broken heart. Though the coroner would report it as a massive heart attack at age 40.

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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