My friend Luigi always entertains me with his tales of the European way of life, which is worlds apart from our American success-driven, stressed-out, groping and groveling behavior. “La dolce vita” is what the Italians call it, which means something like “We don’t like to work,” or maybe it’s “Let’s take off August—and September!” or “Pass that bottle of vino!”
Actually, I’m not sure what it means because my Italian isn’t very good.
I sometimes wonder, though, whether the Italians actually have the answers when it comes to the so-called good life, because I’ve been to Italy and seen them stampeding over one another, women and children included, to get a seat on the bus, shoving and pushing like a crazed mob of fifth graders trying to grab the last dish of Jell-O in the cafeteria.
Luigi is sort of an Italian Henry David Thoreau who recognizes the importance of family, friends, freedom and homemade tomato sauce. To him, life is more important than filthy lucre.
He recently shared one of his profound insights with me, and it was like achieving Neapolitan Nirvana, which is better than a double-digit return on my 401(k) investments—well, almost better.
“You Americans have it wrong,” he told me. “Time isn’t money—it’s much more valuable than money!”
You can’t buy more time, and the time you have left is priceless. This is something you understand the older you get, even though many people spend their days, months and years in the relentless pursuit of possessions, wealth and prestige.
They live “lives of quiet desperation,” as Thoreau said, and to the Italians, that’s like a chronic case of agita.
At the beginning of Walden, Thoreau’s account of life in the woods, he offered what should be the mission statement of the baby boomers: “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”
While I agree with Luigi and Thoreau in theory, in practice it’s a different story. My life is so regimented I may as well be a Marine at Parris Island.
I rise at 4:30 a.m., work out, shower, shave, brush my teeth and then rush to catch the 6:30 train into Manhattan. The only good thing is that I get to see the sun coming up over Connecticut.
After work, I dash for the evening train—a total of 4 1/2 hours of commuting a day—and I’m back home at 7:20, with just enough time to eat, wash and argue with my wife (to keep the relationship fresh) before putting my head on the pillow at 8:30, but only after giving the dog 15 minutes of quality time, throwing the ball down the hall because she loves to play fetch. If I ignore her, she’ll bark nonstop, and when I try to shut my eyes, she jumps on the bed, pounces on my stomach and drops the ball on my head.
It’s the perfect end to the perfect day.
It’s la dolce vita Americana.
Everybody wants a piece of me. I just have to remember that time is not money, because if it were, I’d be broke.
Every birthday that passes, I vow to savor my time because I don’t want to wake up one day and ask myself, “Where did my life go?”
Every autumn that passes when I miss an opportunity to hike in the mountains and see the splendor of the changing foliage because I’m too busy, I wonder how many more autumns I’ll have.
And every Christmas that’s marred by family quarrels, I wonder, how many more Christmases we have left to get it right. Kids, of course, think they have forever.
Stephen Vincent Benet once said, “Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small ways.”
Too many people are saddled with regrets about wasting their lives or anxious about the future. They live a 72-hour day, with one foot in the past and one in the future, frittering away the present. But I’ve discovered the best way to live is a day at a time.
On the other hand, if time is so precious, why did I just spend my evening throwing blueberries in the air for the dog to catch in her mouth? To my way of thinking, that wasn’t a waste of time. It was pure joy. It was amazing to watch, especially since I’ve never been able to catch anything in my mouth, hard as I tried, from my college days when I’d sit on the bar stool and toss peanuts in the air and have them land in my eyes, ears and nose, or now, when I go to the hibachi grill, where the chef tosses shrimp for me to catch in my mouth, but they land on my head or down my collar.
Yes, I envy this dog.
I consider blueberry tossing as time well spent, because on the days when I’m wondering about the ultimate meaning of life, the memory of this little dog scampering to catch blueberries in her mouth will make me smile and help me remember that life’s not all that bad. In fact, it can be pretty good.
By Joe Pisani