I first met Leon when I entered my freshman year at St Basil Prep. He was a newly ordained priest and also my English Lit teacher. A gifted writer himself, he put me on the path to a writing career.
He became a friend and mentor over the course of our separate lives, baptizing my daughters, officiating at their weddings and burying my son-in-law after he was killed by a drunk driver.
Today Monsignor Leon is confined to modest quarters at the Ukrainian seminary in Stamford, requires a visiting nurse to bathe him and a walker to move around. Weeks ago his failing eyes presented the ultimate insult, stripping him of his ability to read—after a life-long love affair with books.
When I last talked with him by phone, I asked if there was anything I could bring him when I next visited him, anything he needed.
“No,” he said. “As you get older, there is less and less that you need.”
That makes Leon a rich man. As Greek philosopher Epictetus taught, “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”
First-century bishop and martyr Polycarp suggested that the root of all evil is the desire to possess. After the death of his adoptive mother, he gave away his possessions and began a life of caring for the sick and the infirm.
Possessions are not always about money or material goods. They can, for example, be the sexual, emotional or psychological ownership of other persons. Or . . . possess the good opinions of others . . . possess the limelight, or the corner office . . . have your health . . . possess great beauty.
We reach a point where we are unable to live without our possessions. They possess us.
Remember this story about the rich man?
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you.’
In the fourth century, the monk Basil seemed to speak to those of us who obsess over our retirement funds: “Jealous of seeing others enjoy their wealth, you give yourself up to wretched calculations: you are not anxious about how to distribute to each according to their need, but how to take everything . . .”
There is freedom in dispossession.
Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell suggested, “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”
While Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
In my next blog, “Why So Lonely?”
Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Fat-Guy-Boat-Peter-Yaremko/dp/0990905012/
Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.
- Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00R3SF200
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