Temperance is cool!

Katarzyna Woynarowska

What is temperance, restraint? Limiting your one’s will? Since the world gets crazy about goods of various kinds? Including emotions. Because we go mad about our desire to possess? And that’s why the number of happy people in the world is decreasing. And perhaps to regain your humanity one should set limits. Immediately. Since if you have a headache from having too much of a good thing, if surplus does not bring happiness one must risk living a life of temperance.

We thank God for this bastard

Some dishonest developer robbed Marek six years ago. Instead of a dreamt apartment in a good district his family had an empty bank account and a huge loan. They ended up with a kitchen and a bedsitter in the outhouse of their parents-in-law. In winter water pearled on the walls and frost was on the windows. ‘When my boss learnt about my troubles he stopped giving me well-paid overtime. He thought I did not belong to his league, stopped being his favourite. Then my wife cared for the household and two little children and I was the only one to provide money. We felt we were losing. Our situation was really bad. We are sitting on the stairs. Behind us there is a porch and dark hall leading to a fairly big kitchen with an old rickety cupboard. Smoke from the chimney. Further there is a field and woods. And silence. ‘We loved shopping. We could afford things and so why not go shopping. We did not go down beyond a certain standard. And within two months we had to sell everything valuable on the Internet auction to pay some part of the loan. Together with Mania we worked out a plan. We crossed out things we did not need. A Franciscan father whom we knew was joking that St Francis could have learnt simplicity from us. When you give up the kind of life you are proud of you must know the reason. At first, we had no idea what the sense of such an experience was. But the fewer things we had, the cosier, nicer and simpler life we lived. Don’t you believe? Try yourself! You do not need many things, which you regard as indispensable. Sometimes a flop means a disguised chance… Mania brings mint tea. In a while we can see sunset, which the family regularly watch instead of watching evening TV news. ‘I have learnt to refashion our clothes so that they will look fashionable. We do not throw away shoes but take them to the shoemaker. Marek makes furniture himself and he refurbishes our flat, too. We have only a radio and have time to talk a lot. Our children found it difficult to accept. We took them from private school to a state school, at first to the district school and then to the village one. But children accept their parents’ choices if the parents make them with conviction. And we have made our own way of life and it is a happy life. Three years ago Marek and Mania bought an old wooden cottage in the region of Podlasie. They hired the local people to take the cottage apart and then they put it together on the lot close to the woods. The whole operation cost 10 times of the sum they lost dealing with the developer. ‘Can you believe that now we thank God for this bastard-developer?’

Struggle with the world...

Temperance needs patience. And a strong character because many people will try to make you give up your good resolutions. A simple example: Monika, a journalist, decided not to drink any alcohol in August. For the intention of those who are addicted. ‘But there was a family wedding and reception in August. For half of the night I had to provide excuses and explanations why I did not drink… If I had been at some atheists’ wedding reception I could have understood the astonishment on their faces. But these were Catholics. They just kept asking me to drink. I had to drink and no excuse! I kept explaining but I realised that they gave up when they took me for an eccentric. Let them think so! I endured and I was proud of myself for a long time. It was a nice feeling – joy at the victory over my own weakness.

...and with oneself

At the age of 16 his overweight was 18 kg. When he was five he was seriously ill. He was in bed and kept eating to ‘take strength.’ He recovered but became addicted to eating. In a family a child who is ‘poor because ill’ becomes completely unpunished. Fast food, chips, coca-cola, chocolate bars for second breakfast. He used to vomit because he ate too much. His grandmother was proud, ‘My grandson can eat so much!’ Shopping in supermarkets every week – buying everything from the shelves within your reach. Parents forcing him to go on diet and visits to doctors. Today Maciek is studying at the Technical University and smiles while recollecting his visits to the psychotherapist who told him – a little giant – to accept the way he was. In the grammar school his peers stopped tolerating him. There were no jeans fit for him. ‘Temperance is a decision of a free man who says ‘no’ to excess’, he says today. ‘This must be a purely spiritual act. The retreats helped me. The retreats with fasting – my mother’s idea… There for the first time I heard that one could make a philosophy of life on temperance. Now I think while shopping. I look at the things I buy. I have stopped wasting food. For several years I have not thrown anything away. In Poland too many people still have little to eat. I think we should teach children to have respect for food. Another thing is that I do care for the food produced in an honest way, without slave labour. That’s why I dislike foreign food. I support local food. I buy Polish products. I avoid chemically-altered food. When I can, I ride a bike to buy food from farmers selling at the roads. I do not eat much. On Fridays I have some prayer intention so I eat only bread and water. I have lost 15 kg and I am in love…

A misfit?

Adam, an engineer, a globetrotter, a linguist. Today he lives a simple and modest life. To be happy he had to leave a big firm where he earned a lot. It took him a lot of time to realise that he did not belong to the world where gadgets defined people’s awareness. He thinks that too many things, and also emotions, destroy people’s souls, freeze their hearts and make them empty-headed. After all people can treat other people as subjects to meet their needs. And he was treated in such a way. Addiction to work made him lose the sense of life. His desire to have more stimulated his everyday life. He was close to lose the woman he loved. ‘My escape from the firm began when I felt disgust after another obligatory integration meeting in some seaside spa. I am not going to describe what happens during such meetings because Catholic papers will not publish that anyway. But the thing is that nobody condemns this style of life. Those who want to live differently are pointed at. If I do not ‘score with’ girls, do not go to parties to ‘hire’ some girl and ‘drinks’ do not conclude my day, I immediately stop being ‘one of us’, I stop playing in the same team. A misfit? And perhaps I think practically? I have seen so many divorces of my friends, so many abandoned wives and husbands, sad children that if I have one life to live I simply try to learn seeing the mistakes other people make. Maybe it is time to acknowledge that the ‘love for everyone’ praised in songs, this ‘buying a pig in a poke’, this fashion to ‘match before the wedding’ do not work. People are not happier. I can betray my wife but she should not get to know about that. All people do that. Not all? Perhaps those pre-war principles are healthier… ‘Longer waiting, better breakfast’, my grandfather used to say. In the West one can see a clear trend to keep sexual temperance. And in Poland?’

Instead of a punch-line

‘Though beauty attaches to every virtue, yet it is singularly the attribute of temperance, for two reasons: first, from analysis of the general idea of temperance, which involves a certain regular and appropriate proportion, in which the essence of beauty consists; secondly, because the things from which temperance restrains us are the lowest things in man, and befit him in respect of the nature that he has in common with beasts; and therefore man is most exposed to degradation and disfigurement herein: consequently beauty is the singular attribute of temperance, as that virtue particularly removes what disfigures man.’ (St Thomas Aquinas, ‘Summa Theologica’).

"Niedziela" 51/2009

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl