So often in life a person thinks he is doing God’s will, pursuing the right path, seeking a noble goal, and acting with pure, disinterested motives only to experience failure and disappointment. He cannot perfectly explain the reasons for the outcome he never expected. He was sincere and diligent, he worked competently and productively, he is not aware of any glaring error or moral lapse, he intended good and not evil, and yet he does not succeed for reasons that escape him.
A young man courts a woman for a period of months and assumes she will accept a proposal of marriage if he declares his love, but she declines the offer. An aspiring young employee rises in the business world with a proven record of accomplishment and excellent recommendations, but he does not receive the job offer he sought. A professional seeks another opportunity and leaves one position to find employment in another part of the country more suitable for his family and peace of mind, but he finds his new employers petty, unreasonable, or unprofessional.
Such situations, based on good will and prudent deliberations, do not occur because of bad judgments, impulsive decisions, or restless aspirations.
No Crying Over Spilled Wine
Hilaire Belloc in The Path to Rome offers insight into these experiences. As he travels on his pilgrimage through pastures and past ponds, he begins to feel a lightness in his backpack that he finds a relief until he hears a crash: his heavy bottle fell from the sack “all broken to atoms”—a brand of favorite wine he anticipated relishing as the natural reward of a long day of walking from morning till dusk: “My disappointment was so great that I sat down on a milestone to consider the accident and see if a little thought would not lighten my acute annoyance. Consider that I had carefully cherished this bottle and had not drunk throughout a painful march all that afternoon, thinking that there would be no wine worth drinking after I had passed the frontier.” This episode spoiled all his plans, and he would not enjoy any reward for all his effort. The whole episode made no sense to him, and he was at a loss for some possible explanation for his great frustration.
The only comfort his mind offers is the knowledge that the accident was not a great tragedy. He acknowledges with gratitude the escape from other “torments and evils to which even this wasted wine would have seemed a wretched jest.” At least he did not lose his footing or injure himself in some serious accident. His only recourse was simply to go forward on the pilgrimage and stop lamenting his loss.
Once he left France and entered Switzerland, Belloc had assumed that the broken bottle of wine had no equal for a connoisseur of his taste. One mile later, however, he notices the lights of a café where he decides to stop to refresh his thirst and his spirits: “’Why then,’ I said, ‘I will come in and drink’.” The exquisite wine that awaits him here is distinctly special and delicious, a drink “whose wonderful taste was to colour all my memories of the Mont Terrible.” This is the consolation that affords him a far greater comfort than the thought that he broke only a bottle of wine, not one of his limbs.
Belloc then offers this wisdom: “It is always thus with sorrows if one will wait.”
“Wine; shut or open.”
In a fallen world and a valley of tears, many things do not make logical sense, and fond wishes do not always come to pass as one expects despite the best intentions and honest efforts. Like the pilgrim to Rome, one must have hope, show patience, and go on. One never knows what lies ahead in the next mile of the journey or the next chapter of life.
Sorrow is not the climax of the journey but an interruption or interlude with more scenes to follow. Something better may be in store that one cannot even imagine. The best wine may be served last rather than first as the guests marveled at the marriage of Cana where Christ performed his first miracle.
“If one will wait” is the pre-condition. Sorrows can lose some of their weight, and surprises can happen as one travels the next miles and finds the other inns that lie ahead. Something special may be waiting like a delicious new wine to lift the spirits. “If one is willing to wait”: The unwillingness to wait is the sin of despair.
The young unrequited lover with the broken heart needs to trust that someone even more ideal awaits him in the future. The aspiring, qualified young businessman who did not receive the offer for the perfect job must find peace with the thought that some better prospect lies ahead. The professional who moved across the country for the benefit of his family situation and regretted his choice does not need to suffer a sense of guilt or failure but remember that, in the words of ancient proverb, “Where there is life, there is hope.”
The path to Rome, as Belloc discovered on his pilgrimage, is not only filled with pastures, ponds, mountains, and groves—scenes of unutterable beauty—but also the most amazing surprises found in the most unlikely places.
As he approaches Belfort in France, he enters an ugly suburb and notices a puzzling sign that reads “Wine; shut or open.”
Never had this expert on wine ever heard of these two types. What is “open” wine? When he sees tin cans of open wine in containers he associates with water, he cannot imagine how any merchant would foolishly sell unbottled wine (“seeing that if you leave a bottle of wine uncorked for ten minutes you spoil it”). Purchasing the “open” wine out of curiosity, he tastes and marvels: “. . . it was delicious. Sweet, cool, strong, lifting the heart, satisfying, and full of . . . bouquet, and body, and flavor.
“If one will wait,” the broken bottle of wine can be replaced with wine, good wine, and the best wine.