Ever since I was a child feeding on New England “Clam Chowda” and Boston’s baked beans, I’ve had an insatiable appetite.
My father’s playful laugh as I asked for my second dinner of the night became just as much of a household routine as my complaints to take out the garbage every Friday morning.
I could hardly focus on reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” or practicing my basic algebra in middle school without a platter of cheese and crackers.
You might call it being ‘picky,’ as my mother so affectionately calls my desire to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.
Of course, you’d be right.
My pickiness for certain foods is why I subscribed to the unlimited meal plan as soon as I arrived on campus at Villanova in the fall of 2013.
But, contrary to the title, the unlimited meal plan has its limits.
Most notably, there is this odd construction in the Villanova meal system called “meal restrictions.”
At the Connelly Center, for example, students are not allowed to use a meal between 12:15-1:15, essentially peak lunch hours, and again from 5-6, a classic dinner time.
I’m sure the administration has a reason for the meal restrictions.
I have heard it is because they don’t want the smaller seating area to get too crowded, or that this will encourage the faculty to eat at Connelly instead.
As I sit at my desk typing, these reasons seem fair.
But when my stomach growls at 12:30 and I have a craving for the succulent flavor of a turkey burger and a side of the most flavorful green beans known to mankind, the restrictions seem to make less and less sense.
While I am critiquing the meal restrictions at Villanova, this is not the point of my article.
The example of meal restrictions illustrates a fundamental element of human nature.
Human beings have an innate tendency to focus on the negative. Notice in this conversation, that I have never referred to the dozen or so hours when Connelly is open. From the crack of dawn until 12:15, then again from 1:15-5, and after six, students can eat at Connelly.
They even offer “Late Night,” an assortment of breakfast foods beginning at 10 p.m. for any Villanova students who need to pick up a sausage and egg sandwich to distract themselves from the hours of homework they have yet to complete.
Villanova students have so much.
We have the blessing to attend one of the top academic schools in the country.
We are exposed to an alumni network which spans the globe and itches to give Wildcats opportunities at their businesses.
Best of all, we get (almost) guaranteed seats to watch one of the best men’s basketball teams in the entire country.
But yet Villanova students, myself included, cannot get beyond the injustice of meal restrictions at Connelly.
Philosopher Martin Heidegger might help us explain our human nature to focus on the negative.
Heidegger was concerned with philosophical hermeneutics and how human beings live in the world, but one of his assertions is particularly illuminating to this discussion.
Heidegger says that objects are “ready-to-hand” when they are being used by the human being, and “present-to-hand” when they are present, but not functioning as a tool for the human at that particular instant.
Consider the example of a hammer being used by a construction worker; the hammer is a hammer in its fullest sense when used by the worker, but when it is not functioning we see the hammer as a broken down object, devoid of a capacity to be useful to us.
This insight may tell us something more profound about human nature.
When the human being uses the hammer, he or she does not appreciate the tool for its ability to help in construction.
Likewise, when the human being is unable to use the hammer, it sees its flaws, its uselessness, and finds the negative in a previously useful and meaningful object.
When Villanova students have access to the food at the Connelly Center, they take it for granted.
Just listen and overhear any conversation in any of the dining halls and I guarantee you will hear a minimum of two complaints about the food at Villanova.But suddenly, when students are unable to eat the food at the Connelly Center, they notice the absence of the chicken finger platter or soup special and see the flaw in the system.
I find the latter half of this two-part analogy to be less problematic—we will always come to appreciate something more when it is absent in our lives, hence the saying, “You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
What we must do, to use Heidegger’s image, is to appreciate and love the hammer as it is being used.
Likewise, we have to value our relationships and savor every interaction with those we love, for the day will come when we these relationships will fall apart due to distance and time.
Our lives will run by in a flash, and we will someday yearn for the chance to engage in the mundane, daily activities of life.
For Villanova students, we must appreciate our four years at one of the greatest universities in the greatest country in the world.
We must do so as we live our everyday lives, not only during commencement or major periods of transition.
Why must we do this? Because, in the blink of an eye, we will be working citizens out in the world, cooking our own meals, wishing we could still eat the chicken fingers at the Connelly Center.