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Monday, November 5, 2012

Life’s Unexpected Pleasures: “¡Más Bueno Que El Pan!”

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I took two years’ worth of Spanish classes in high school, and two years more of Spanish in college, and there was a day when my Spanish was pretty good.  With dictionary in hand, I was even able to read books and plays in Spanish.  But like all learning, things you don’t practice will fade, and—alas—my Spanish is all but gone.  I feel sure that were I placed into a Spanish-speaking culture where no one spoke English it wouldn’t take me long to be able to converse on a rudimentary level, but that’s unlikely to happen.  One time when I was visiting my son in Seattle I was staying in a hotel room and needed two things: an extra pillow and to have my bathroom door fixed since it wouldn’t stay closed.  When the maid arrived I pointed these things out, but she said, “No English, Señor.”  At this point, and to my own amazement that I remembered the question, I picked up a pillow and asked her “Como que dice?” (“What do you call this?”)  She replied “Almohada” (“pillow”).  I smiled. “Uno más, por favor,” to which she nodded.  I then led her over to the bathroom door and demonstrated to her that it wouldn’t stay shut.  “No es seguro!” she exclaimed.  I was very pleased.  “Sí, no es seguro!”

The one Spanish phrase that I use at least once a week is “¡más bueno que el pan!”  It means “better than bread,” and is employed by me when something good unexpectedly happens.  For example, I pull my car into a crowded parking lot, I’m in a hurry, and I’m annoyed to realize that finding a parking space might take some time.  As I’m worrying about this annoyance a spot opens up right in front of my car, and I pull in with no time lost.  As this happens—and now as a deeply engrained habit—I delightedly mutter “¡Más bueno que el pan!” 

The English word for such pleasant surprises is “serendipity.”  I’ve posted before about luck in one’s life (see “On Being Lucky: The Second Anniversary of My Heart Transplant” in Related Posts below), and the big moments when luck suddenly comes your way are of course wonderful, but I also think it makes life so much more pleasant to celebrate the little unexpected things as they happen which make our existence easier, more enjoyable, or more fun.  Think of ¡Más bueno que el pan!” or “Hot damn!” (etc.) as the opposite of the swear words that rise to the tongue so quickly at darker moments.
 
Alas, we tend to concentrate on our problems.  We even exaggerate them: does the phone always ring when you’re in the shower?  Of course, not—you only remember the times when it does.  Real problems are worrisome, of course, and need to be thought out and, to the extent possible, solved.  But they mustn’t be the primary things in our lives.  Are you the sort of person about whom people say “You worry too much”?  Do you brood over matters that you cannot solve, but which you also cannot let go?  What sort of life is that?  Will you still be worrying on your deathbed? 

Consider that if by some magic all the problems in the world—large and small—were resolved and suddenly over, the respite would be short lived indeed.  With seven billion (plus) individuals on the planet hurrying through their lives, and with the multitude of ordinary and extraordinary things that happen routinely (like illnesses or hurricanes) the world would be problem-free for all of, say, six seconds, and then the troubles of life would be with us anew.  I’ve read that if you’re in a bad mood you should force yourself to smile for one full minute, and pretend, no matter how phony this is, that you are really happy.  The end result is that you begin to feel better almost immediately.  If you doubt me, try it and see if I’m wrong.  Attitude adjustment can be as simple as trying to capture a better mental state.  “Smile and be happy” is more than a tired cliché.

We’re allowed to be happy in life, and that happiness should be cultivated whatever its source.  The good things that occur—whether beautiful moments or objects or spectacular views or the kindness of strangers—should be treasured even if they are as insignificant as the lucky parking space.

I close with one of my favorite writings, the Max Ehrmann prose poem “Desiderata” (1927):

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

To which I add: ¡Más Bueno Que El Pan!”
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Related Posts:
“Superstitions,” March 21, 2010
“The Deathbed Test,” July 27, 2010
"How To Impress People In a Conversation," October 1, 2010
“How To Make Ethical Decisions,” December 12, 2010
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"The Left-Brain/Right-Brain Life," January 17, 2011
“Life's Little (But Important) Rules,” April 23, 2011
“Picking Your Battles: The Meaning of Words,” July 3, 2011
On Being Lucky: The Second Anniversary of My Heart Transplant,” November 23, 2011
“How To Be Perfect,” March 17, 2012
How To Win an Argument and Change Someone’s Mind,” August 5, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

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