Imagine the young mother feeding her infant and then settling the child in for a nap, as the mom sighs in relief at what she believes is a moment of peace. When the child starts screaming again, the frustrated mother mumbles “Aren’t you ever satisfied? You were just fed ... then you took a nap. Now you’re crying for something else. What is it this time?"
The infant is just beginning a lifetime of restlessness, a life of searching forever for something more. As it ages, the child no longer screams. The scream might evolve to a whisper, and then just a dream, but the constant desire for something more satisfying will never be stilled. At first, it may be for more appealing toys, nicer ones than those he has. In years to come it could be for academic success, a better job, the perfect spouse, a new adventure. There’s always something attractive lying just outside our reach that seems to promise happiness. But when we have all that in hand, we’ll dream up something else to desire and focus on that. It’s a lifetime quest for something more, something just beyond our grasp.
“Never satisfied” might not just be a mother’s frustrated scolding of her child, but a definition of what it is to be human. How much is enough? Don’t even think of asking that question. Human nature is such that we will never be satisfied.
We can always do better, we are reminded constantly. Even on the signs promoting last year’s canceled Olympics, the motto plays the same theme. “Citius, altius, fortius” – faster, higher, stronger – it urges us. The Olympics motto, then, is more than a call to compete; it is a reflection of that rule of life: That there is always something rewarding just out of reach. Whether the four-minute mile, or the two-hour marathon, or any other target, for that matter. We can always do better.
One lifetime is simply not enough for what we would like to accomplish, we are forced to admit. There are goals unachieved, bucket lists that are unfulfilled, pathways through the woods still unexplored. There’s always so much more to do.
But, as a matter of fact, some of us believe that we will indeed have more than one lifetime ... and that the seemingly endless string of desires – always “something more” – will finally be satisfied. We suspect that this restless search for something beyond is a sure sign that we are programmed for more than just what is within our reach here and now.
But we have a choice to make. We can say that within humans is a desire for something that is always outside of their reach, and that this desire will eventually be satisfied, even if not in this life. Or we can discount this impulse as a human quirk and dismiss as a fantasy any thought that this will ever be fulfilled.
As for me, I’ve always liked being trusting and naive. Now I have a job in a parish that allows me to work with those who feel the same way I do. The job is tedious at times but rewarding. We take pride in answering a firm No to the mother’s question, “Aren’t you ever satisfied?”
Our response is simply this. “No, mom. We weren’t satisfied when we were infants, and we won’t be satisfied for the rest of our lives either. We want it all. And we believe that we can get it, too.”
Father Fran Hezel is a former director of the research-pastoral institute Micronesian Seminar. After serving as Jesuit mission superior in the Micronesian islands for six years, he continued heading the Micronesian Seminar until 2010.