This is one of my begonias.
Of course I admit it is not “mine” in the sense that I did not make it. I well remember sitting in my grandmother’s Sunday school class—I must have been four or five, wearing a little hat and white gloves—singing “Oh who can make a flower? I’m sure I can’t, can you? Oh who can make a flower? No one but God ‘tis true.” So I’ve been clear about that for decades.
But speaking of white gloves, I have a newspaper clipping that shows two white-gloved Sotheby’s employees holding up an original 1895 Edvard Munch painting that sold at auction in New York on May 2 for $119.9 million—the most money anyone has ever paid for a painting. I guess the anonymous bidder owns that painting.
But “how do we possess a work of art?” asks Josef Pieper. “By buying it or receiving it as a gift? At what point do we ‘get’ anything out of it?”
Legally speaking, the begonia bulbs were a Mother’s Day gifts from my daughters, so I am quite sure that they belong to me as much as the Munch belongs to the winning bidder or the person to whom he gave it.
Practically speaking, I planted the bulbs and watered them (with a bit of help from my girls), so I am steward over them and can therefore call them “mine.” In this same way, whoever dusts Munch’s frame also has the right to say “my painting.”
Spiritually speaking, I am enjoying the begonias. Their beauty increases my happiness, and for that reason I “have” them. We are enriched by everything we enjoy.
Pieper defines happiness as “having what we want.” And what we want is everything: “the whole good.” Happiness is “possession of the whole good.” The whole good is God; the whole good is eternal life. What does it mean to “have” eternal life? To acquire it? To maintain it? To enjoy it?
To one who is thirsty, satisfaction has two components: 1) an available drink, and 2) the act of drinking. Happiness, argues Pieper, is available and must be swallowed. This is the premise of his little book Happiness and Contemplation. At least that’s part of it. There’s much to mine here and I’ve only begun.