Thursday, August 7, 2008

Life, Reduced

I'd sat down last night with every intention to post, but as is the case with me, I need time to digest and meditate on the topic at hand. So it comes to you at 4 am after a day spent in the microcosm of a hospital. A loved one's routine, yearly it seems, outpatient trip through the medical maze. This time it netted a powerful idea.

Maybe the idea wouldn't have glistened so brightly had I not found it in the surgical waiting room, where our human experience is reduced to life and death. And The Price is Right. Where for a short burst of time, strangers come to know exact shades of expression in each other, and through the sheer intimacy of unspoken fears, the room becomes a lifeboat. Phone-liason volunteer at the helm. Enough coffee to float us and enough look-at-my-celebrity-baby magazines to carry us straight to the bottom. Life reduced.

In yesterday's USA Today, a columnist outlined his experiment with simplicity. Over the course of a year, he pared down his life. His original goal was to reduce spending, but the idea overflowed with the unintended consequences of happiness and gratitude. The rules were simple: 1. purchasing books and music are allowed. They nourish the mind. 2: purchasing gifts for others is allowed. 3: Accepting gifts is okay. 4: Never buy anything for yourself. 5: One year.

My first thought was: only a writer could pull this off. A writer could knock around the house in hole-infested briefs and find creative ways to skirt the rules. The job already lends itself to poverty and a socially-acceptable form of insanity.

Then, I considered the families who checked out of society and went back to live for six months in nineteenth century conditions for the PBS series. The idea always appealed to me. I couldn't help wondering if I had the strength to shed my pest-controlled, central air-dependent life. Always, the families re-entered the present time closer for the experience, their souls richer.

I don't want for anything, save the love and health of those around me. Everything on my cork board cannot be bought. I am blessed beyond belief that I have the time and luxury to lament over rejection slips while others can't make their next house payment. So, what if a family could learn to want for nothing in the climate of excess we live in? What if at the beginning of that year, we pared down to the essentials and material things with meaning and memories--the basics of everything we loved and entered into the experiment with garage sales and charity donations? What if we spent the year recapturing the joy of giving, the art of thankfulness? Is it possible? Would my family detest me or would we emerge on the heels of one of those life-lessons that would forever change our fabric?

Life reduced. Without the bling of a showcase showdown or the misguided beacon of those celebrity magazines. A lifeboat to find our true selves.

Could you do it?


Jen FitzGerald said...

Wow, L.A., this is deep. I think I could do it. I buy little for myself anyhow, but my family would probably think I was crazy and disown me.


Sue L said...

I have to agree with Jen. It wouldn't really take much for me to disappear into the wilds - I do it, actually, at every oppurtunity.

Would my kids and DH make it six months or a year and come out closer? I don't know.

I think we would have to be truely isoloated and I think it would be a tough year. I think for a lot of kids these days, it might take more than a year for them to learn to appreciate the simple things.

It seems we are a culture of extremes ... kids who have too much and kids who have too little.

We have struggled to find balance, but, of course, the kids don't see it.

Maureen McGowan said...

What a fabulous post. I'm not sure if I could do it, but I'd sure like to try. "Nothing" doesn't include food or gas for the car does it? What about conferences. Hmmmm.. Not sure I could give up writers conferences, even if I should. Maybe they fall under books since they feed the mind, too?

L.A. Mitchell said...

Jen...mine would be a tough sell, too. Me, not so much. I could do it.

Sue...maybe we're all self-sacrificing martyrs anyway. Isolation is tempting, it takes out the element of temptation, but with that comes the greatest potential for change.

Maureen...I guess the rules would have to be black and white from the beginning. I would consider anything job-related acceptable, but does that include the most beautiful cube of note paper at Staples?

Marilyn Brant said...

I love reading where your thoughts and experiences lead you, L.A.

I had a high school friend who wanted to be a medical missionary. He spent a summer in Central America and returned a changed man. One of the things he told me was how amazing it had been to have life simplified for him like many luxuries he thought he couldn't live without, but soon realized he COULD. Returning to regular life turned out to be more of an adjustment for him than growing accustomed to a simplified one.

I think I could probably do it, esp. since I hate clothes shopping and books and music are my favorite purchases anyway :). Not sure if my son could handle it, though...

Anonymous said...

I doubt I could do it. First loophole would be defining that bottle of wine as 'food' and it would be downhill from there.