"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.