Day 03 – Can you drink the cup? – Henri Nouwen

Chapter 1

Before we drink the cup, we must hold it!

I still remember a family dinner long ago in the Netherlands. It was a special occasion, but I have forgotten whether it was a birthday, a wedding, or an anniversary. Since I was still a young boy, I was not allowed to drink wine, but I was fascinated by the way the grown-ups were drinking their wine! After the wine had been poured into the glasses, my uncle took his glass, put both of his hands around the cup, moved the glass gently while letting the aroma enter his nostrils, looked at all the people around the table, lifted it up, took a little sip, and said: “Very good … a very good wine … let me see the bottle … it must be a fiftier.”

This was my uncle Anton, my mother’s oldest brother, priest, monsignor, authority in many things, good wines being one of them. Every time uncle Anton came to family dinners, he had a comment or two to make about the wine that was served. He would say, “A full body,” or “Not what I expected,” or “Could be a little hardier,” or “This is just good with the roast,” or “Well, for fish this is okay.” His criticisms were not always appreciated by my father, who provided the wine, but nobody dared to contradict him. The whole ritual around the wine intrigued me as a child. Often my brothers and I would tease our uncle, saying: “Well, uncle Anton, can you guess the year this wine was made without looking at the label? You are the expert, aren’t you?”

One thing I learned from it all: drinking wine is more than just drinking. You have to know what you are drinking, and you have to be able to talk about it. Similarly, just living life is not enough. We must know what we are living. A life that is not reflected upon isn’t worth living. It belongs to the essence of being human that we contemplate our life, think about it, discuss it, evaluate it, and form opinions about it. Half of living is reflecting on what is being lived. Is it worth it? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it old? Is it new? What is it all about? The greatest joy as well as the greatest pain of living come not only from what we live but even more from how we think and feel about what we are living. Poverty and wealth, success and failure, beauty and ugliness aren’t just the facts of life. They are realities that are lived very differently by different people, depending on the way they are placed in the larger scheme of things. A poor person who has compared his poverty with the wealth of his neighbor and thought about the discrepancy lives his poverty very differently than the person who has no wealthy neighbor and has never been able to make a comparison. Reflection is essential for growth, development, and change. It is the unique power of the human person.

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