He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind. ~ Buddha
My recent run-in with Gluttony got me thinking about the Seven Deadly sins. I am a huge Dante fan, and an even bigger fan of Hieronymus Bosch. Years ago I had the once in a lifetime chance to see a Bosch retrospective exhibit in Venice, right in the Palazzo Ducale. It was pure magic.
Today it is with trepidation and a certain measure of shame that I write not about Gluttony, but about Envy. I hope to dedicate a post to each of the seven deadly sins, and if I manage to dig up enough virtue in my heathen soul, later I may write about the Seven Holy Virtues.
But today it is with Envy that I want to come clean. I think Envy is by far the worst of the lot. I’m not sure if that is because it is the sin that bears down on me the most, or because the others seem somehow less malicious. I only know that Envy seems to me to be the exact opposite of living. Envy is dark, hateful and insidious. Envy is also cunning and widespread; the twisted side of popular culture feeds Envy.
Envy, in truth, is not something I feel inside of me often, but when I do it is like poison. An attack of Envy, even peripheral Envy, leaves me feeling drained and gray. And so guilty, because in the end I am well aware of how lucky I really am.
As I wrote in this post, I attended my nephew’s cresima recently, and a part of me died with Envy when I saw the gifts lavished upon him for the occasion. The expression dying of Envy is singular, don’t you think? This particular form of Envy was on behalf of my own two children, who did not receive gifts for baptism, first communion, or confirmation, and must make do with birthdays and Christmas. I have no qualms about my choice not to partake in the Italian Catholic merry-go-round, but damn, my kids deserve gifts, too, no? The pathetic irony of all this is that they felt no envy. They feel special. They have a father who spends every free second of his time with them taking them skiing, fishing, camping, hiking, and who attends every single one of their many basketball and soccer games. They feel lucky to have a mother who works at home, who speaks English, who knows about a million eclectic things and can often answer the questions on Qui Vuole Essere un Milionario? and who suffers from supermarket panic. They feel like they are living an exotic adventurous life, because they are, and are proud of the thousands of miles earned on their own personal frequent flier memberships. My kids are happy, earthy, intelligent creatures full of promise and a wide open future. They don’t even give a shit about the iPod Nano and chronograph watch their cousin received! They feel sorry for him because he doesn’t have a brother or sister.
Cunning, insidious Envy can seep its way into my view of everyone else around me, those more beautiful, those who somehow seem to have it easier than I do, those with more money, a bigger house, more knowledge, more friends, more, more, more.
And what makes me truly feel shame and horrid, mortifying embarrassment, is when I remember what it feels like to be the object of Envy, as we all are at one time or another. The green slithery slimy snakelike visceral feeling coming from the bearer of Envy. The feeling that radiates from someone who envies you feels like pure hate, almost like violence. I’ve been forced to look Envy straight in the eye many times, and I usually turn away with disgust, even fear.
And now for the ultimate irony- can you imagine who envies me the most? Who in her gut cannot stand to be around me? My sister-in-law. The same sister-in-law who is my nephew’s mother…
Dante defined Envy as "love of one's own good perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs." In his Purgatory, the punishment for the envious was to sew their eyes shut with wire, since they had gained sinful pleasure through seeing others brought lowly.