I’m visiting home in Minneapolis, and watching the 10 o’clock news. The 2nd story tonight is about a family of a single mother, and her son’s death that had occurred one year prior (around the time of Christmas). The young child had been shot by an errant bullet (all bullets aimed at people are errant, in my opinion) as he was climbing up the stairs of his house to take cover after hearing shots fired in his neighborhood. Anyways, the WCCO Channel 4 news team visited the family, bearing gifts (ranging from a new bed to pajamas to kitchen utensils). The pure delight that these children and this mother have immediately strikes a chord with me. All these things that they were thrilled to receive were everyday things, things they actually need, not think that they need. Their Eden was living in their home with basic necessities with the people they cared about. I can’t tell you how big a piece of shit I feel like (even worse than when Sarah McLachlan’s PETA commercials air) , as I’m watching this on a big screen TV. God, I suck. I’m so jealous of their utter joy and appreciation.
So with Christmas story gets me on the topic of holiday shopping. Here’s the thing: Gift cards expire, get lost or forgotten. Toys eventually get pushed aside for the latest and greatest, clothes get worn once or twice before being ushered to that hidden nook in the closet that nobody dares visit. And sooner or later, shit just takes of SPAAACCCEEEE!
In the words of my good friend, Sir Edmund Berg, “Shit just takes up space, and people need to buy bigger houses so that they can make room for all their Beanie Babies.” For the last 1 1/2 years (Poker’s Black Friday, when it became illegal (rendering us as renegade professional gamblers) to play online poker in the U.S. on April 15, 2011), my friend Ed and I have been living out of one suitcase each. Our travels have taken us to many different places; some stays semi-permanent (6 months in Vancouver) and some stays very temporary (a week or so in Italy). It dawned on us that we were happier than ever, more liberated than ever, and more unstressed than ever (Ed often says he’s “too blessed to be stressed,” in response to “how are you?”). This may come as a surprise to some (as it did for me), because I had expected that having more things would help me cope with living away from all things familiar for so long. However, something became abundantly clear to us, and holds steadfast to our core still, and it is that people don’t need “things”. People think they need things, but quite disillusioned they are. At no point did I wish I had that one other favorite shirt, or another pair of shoes. I’ll always say that a human’s great ability is to adapt. When without, we can make do with what we have. And when that’s not enough, we have the aptitude to improvise. The human race is quite the impressive assembly of curious creatures; ones who will sadly never know their untapped potential.
Back in January 2011, Ed and I took a U-HAUL truck from Wisconsin and Minnesota, respectively, to the sunny skies of San Diego. It was a short stay of 4 months (we stayed there until Black Friday), and now all of my possessions rest on the musty cement floor of a storage facility off of the I-5. Now say someone calls me and tells me that everything in that unit was burnt to the ground, or became the exploits of the cast of “Storage Wars,” I could honestly care less. I don’t say this to sound noble, selfless or insightful, because honestly, I’m far from any of those, I assure you. At no point, did I wish I had the home stereo or my beloved TiVo that was left behind. I’m sharing this to illustrate a point, and one that cannot be stressed enough; that if you can live with less, and it affects you in no way adversely, why wouldn’t you? I’ve been down both roads (consumerism and minimalism), and can definitely say that possessions stunt our creativity, cloud our judgment, and absolutely cripple our relationships. They lead to fear, anxiety, insatiable avarice and greed, and here’s the big kicker; ultimately dissatisfaction (google “Barry Schwartz’s TED talk on the ‘Paradox of choice'”).
This is no lead-in to a diatribe about “going green,” global footprint, charity, the “fiscal cliff” (still don’t know/care what that is) or anything like that; merely catharsis, really. Like I said earlier, I’m far from noble. What you do decide to do with your own money is your prerogative (couldn’t wait to use that word.), but it’s just some food for thought, as the holiday season has reared its head. Although, I will add that it’s quite puzzling how continuing talks of deficits in no way curbs the amount of insane holiday spending that goes on (you’ve seen the crazy shoppers footage).
If you hated the last 5 minutes of Full House episodes, then click back to Facebook, because here’s the take-home part. How many hugs have you given your brother/sister or mom/dad lately? When’s the last time you told your friends that you treasure and love them. Or give a stranger a smile as you pass? We’re not so disconnected from the community we see around us. We have more things in common than we don’t. I feel sometimes that presents tend to shift the focus from the relationship to the object itself (and how it somehow improves the recipient’s life), and in doing so, sullies that very special connection that we mean to celebrate. The only thing that matters to me is you. If you’re reading this, you matter, and no gift you give me will ever improve or affect how I see you. So just take a breath, and share a moment with me.