Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's All Relative

"I can't live without my smart phone."

I saw this statement the other day someplace as I was prowling around the ether. Immediate and contradictory gut reactions were along the lines of: Ho-ho [this is a self-satisfied chuckle to myself] my phone is resoundingly dim-witted and I live just fine, thank you! and Is there some sort of higher plane of life that I am missing?


When I find myself creeping up on my high horse, I use my favorite spell - reductio ad absurdum - to turn that steed into ashes beneath me.

What are the things that I can't live without? Can't is a strong word. It usually is the imperial new cloak of won't or don't want to. But, like the metaphorical emperor's garb, it is spun of misdirection and most people can see straight through it to unsightly moles and the stark nudity of excuse making. So, not wanting to shave any time soon, I ask myself: what can't I live without?

I have my share of gadgetry and whirligigs that make my life easier, says me as I listen to my iPod and type on my spanky new laptop. My kitchen has some useful things for the speedy and delicious preparation of meals and treats: things that knead and chop and mix more quickly and uniformly than I could with my own two hands. Do I enjoy them and use them well? Undoubtedly. Do I need them? No. Could I live without them? Absolutely. OK, that was an easy one. Can we just agree that the majority - the vast majority -  of my material possessions are unnecessary to life, but make it easier and sometimes more fun. I get "wish list" emails from a few different local charities. Invariably, two items that appear on these lists of wishes are socks and shampoo. I wish for a bigger house that is free of odoriferous plumbing. They wish for clean hair and warm feet. Sobering.

What about intangibles? Love, intellect, acceptance, security, companionship, creativity. These are harder for me to cast aside.  Being perched precariously near the top of Maslow's hierarchy, these seem to be needs. But can I live without them? A simple lifting of the eyes outward and around shows me that some people do indeed live every day without some or all of these things. I don't know if they are comfortable or fulfilling lives. I have no authority in this matter. I am one of the lucky ones. I have been enveloped in love even when I found no love for myself. I have been accepted even when I am unacceptable. I have been surrounded by those who would believe in my creativity, my intellect, my worthiness even when I have been unable to believe myself. I have no idea what life would be like without this, but I know that such lives exist and so could I, if need be.

What about the tangible, but illegal to buy and sell items on my "can't live without" list? Can I live without my family? Harder still to cast aside, but yes, I can. I don't want to. I have a hard time imagining what sort of world mine would be without my dearest ones, but I would still live. I have watched my mother over the last few years learn to live without her soul mate and lifelong companion. It has been the arduous, incremental task of learning a whole new language for life, but yet she lives. I have watched parents who have lost children navigate a world without their offspring in it - souls taken out of time, leaving disorder and confusion in their wake - it's a different life, but yet they live. It's a brutal reality upon whose face I force myself to look directly. It is unpleasant, morose even, but these lives I have connected to my own are ultimately independent of my ability to draw breath. As much as I love them and want them there, I am not in control of this.

So what, then? Do I toss it all over because I don't need it? Do I feel guilty for what I have because I know others do not? Do I judge others unfairly because they have more than I do? So, what then?

Here's what: as the reductio ad absurdum spell wears off, I will acknowledge that I am absurdly full of life. It's true that there are few things that I truly can't live without, but what wonder - what opulence! - to be able to occupy my small space in this world, surrounded by people and things and ideas that make life not only livable, but lovely, but bright, but challenging, but luminous. My space is not one that I've built with my own two hands. Its bricks and mortar are gifts, freely given and received; not necessarily deserved or earned; and they are temporary, ephemeral and mostly outside the bounds of my direct control. With this realization comes the onus of responsibility:  not to grasp, denounce or destroy, but to enjoy, to appreciate, to use, to share, and to accept.

27 comments:

  1. I'm sorry...I kind of blanked when I read, "spanky new laptop." What KIND is it? Does it glow? Does it help you write!? Inquiring mind wants to know... and although the knowing is lower on my priority than, say, companionship in general, it's part of companionship in particular.

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    1. This is what happens when I use personal slang... "spanky" is shorthand for "spanking new" which is just a really odd phrase when you think about it, but no less odd than "spanky".

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  2. "I will acknowledge that I am absurdly full of life." If ever there were a statement that appealed to me, this is it. My knees protest otherwise, but what do they know? It's what's in your head that counts. Your post provides a pensive nugget to squeeze into my winter literary pantry, and a welcome one at that.

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    1. The knees have a way of reminding us of our chronological age, don't they? Like the rings on a tree. Regardless of knees, though, there are many kinds of life.

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  3. I just love the things you write and the way you write them. Sincere thanks :)

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    1. Sincere thanks to you, Judy. I'm glad you enjoy my foamings.

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    1. I like that you like this. I like you.

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  5. Sobering, indeed. Having traveled a bit to places where the population at large is less fortunate than I, than most of the people I know, I understand the overarching theme here. I can't live without air, food, water. I do enjoy my smartphone, my not-spanky-but-still-pretty-awesome laptop, my Hubs, my cats, my friends ... it would be an icky existence without a lot of those "things."

    And as much as I could live without Periphery, now that I've had a taste, I don't want to. Tangled Lou, you have become one of my most cherished cyber friends.

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    1. Icky, indeed. But I believe that were all these things to be taken from me, it is my job to find a way to make that existence less icky.

      And that is such a nice thing to say. I am honored.

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  6. Thoughtful piece - I know I can live w/o the material things - they are all cool things (most especially my bike, paints, and books) but I can deal if they are gone. People? I would find a way to survive. The intangible things are the hardest to lose - affection, curiosity, acceptance, understanding, love, intellect -- these are the hardest to imagine living without. It's not that I couldn't. It's that I wouldn't want to live without them. Thanks for posting this.

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    1. I agree with you. I don't want to live without them and pray I never do. This is mostly a mental exercise in gratitude that I do with myself in order to realize just how very blessed I am.

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  7. "I wish for a bigger house that is free of odoriferous plumbing. They wish for clean hair and warm feet. Sobering."

    Love it!
    Need vs. Want...
    The ultimate contest.
    I read this twice and know I can read it several more times and still bask in its light.

    The spirited human can survive anything... the question is... would he/she/we want to?
    The answer is almost invariably yes...
    Where there's life, there's hope.
    "Hope is the thing with feathers
    That perches in the soul
    And sings the tune without the words
    And never stops
    - at all -"

    Ms. Dickinson was the shiznit, no doubt!

    Okay & NOW I am off to read your link on Maslow's hiearchy.
    YAY!
    I love learning new things. :)

    xoxo

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    1. Oh yes, Ms. Dickinson, oh yes! She observed a great many things from her garret window.
      You have succinctly and beautifully summed up the things that have been knocking about in my noggin. Hope, yes. There is simply being alive, and then there is living.
      I'll be looking for traces of Maslow in your pretties!

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  8. I used to be a bigshot once. I would travel business a couple times a week, canada is a big country and I used to enjoy getting drunk in the airport vip lounges which serve free booze. On one of these trips, I had gone to a restaurant and had a few beers, read parts of shogun, and then was walking across the street and woke up in an ICU with some doctor asking me if I heard him and all I was worried about was the smell of beer on my breath. I had had a heart attack. I was sort of in a daze for awhile and then went in to have my bypass and late I woke up and a nurse was feeding me ice with a little stick we would get back in the day for icecream. I felt so marvelous waking up and yes, a bit sore. Then, like the fool I went back to work and worried about everything work related and got back into the bandwagon and the upward climb but then I slowly started to realize that I was a nobody. I was injured and would never compete for the highest honours again. So I got depressed about this to the point that I took time off work and went off to spain to contemplate my navel.

    While contemplating I had another heart attack and barely survived but one day, I again woke up alive. And I said... what would anything matter if I had not woken up. Garry you goof, you have just been given a new life by these marvelous spanish doctors and they saved your life and now what are you going to do with this gift.

    I immediately went home and when I got home my house was empty. My wife had left and then there was the divorce and I got involved in that and then work became harder, yes, stupid went back and then I was alone in a big hollow house with a futon for my bed and the tv.

    I went to work, and damn it all, if suddenly I woke up again in ICU. A team of marvelous canadian doctors had sort of patched me back up and gave me another gift. When I awoke I said. Garry, you have a new life. Start doing something. I never went back to work, moved to Switzerland and then now Mexico and I have never looked back or ahead. I am enjoying this gift and to tell you the truth dear, the ultimate thing that I cannot live without for me is clearly doctors. Chuckle. I have not really learned have I?

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    1. Maybe you need to find a really gorgeous, Mexican doctor to share your life with?

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    2. Jewels - you are very funny.
      Garry - That is a completely heartbreaking (no pun intended) and incredible tale. Enjoy that gift. You've got to think that if it keeps being given to you, then there must be a reason for that.

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  9. This is very profound and beautifully written, as always, but I keep humming "All we are is Dust in the Wind...Dust in the Wind..." It's OK because I really like that song. :)

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    1. Thank you. Funny you should mention the song, because what I had running through my head was "I can't liiiiiive, if livin' is without youuuuu!" Who sings that? I don't care. It's stuck in my head and I don't really like it. I'll swap with you.

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  10. Yes. Oh so very much yes.

    (PS--So very much more elegant and eloquent than my unfortunate (but seemingly unbreakable) habit when it comes to my children (and, alas, my clients and sometimes even my husband) beginning a statement with "I need..." Particularly when that statement ends with a material object, I say, "You need a dictionary to look up the word 'need' and see how it differs from the word 'want.'")

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    1. This post was inspired, in part, by a conversation I had with the Hooligan wherein he was explaining to me how much he needed a Lego Sith Infiltrator.

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  11. I had an experience last year with a young woman who was trying to find a place to live. When I dropped her off at a friend's house she had all her belongings in one suitcase. My heart broke for her, not because of the suitcase, but because she had no one to turn to or who loved her enough to take her in. I could live without my loved ones, but it would be a cold life.

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    1. It would be a cold life, indeed. But perhaps if you ever found yourself in that situation, you would meet kind people like yourself and your friend to help you out when there was no one else.

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  12. YEs, just yes. To it all. I really appreciate this post. @ Masked Mom- I might just make that line one of my own now. I'm sure my kids will love it! :D

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    1. Thank you! I was also thinking of borrowing Masked Mom's line. Educational in so many ways.

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  13. Your words make me think, and this post is no exception. Thank you for your perspective, and for saying it so thoughtfully and beautifully.

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    1. Thank you, Dawn. I really appreciate you saying that!

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Thanks for reading and taking the time to say hello!