Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Diminished by Possession

"Possessions are usually diminished by possession."

-Friedrich Nietzsche

When I was in college some years ago, I desperately needed a text for one of my classes. The college store sold the edition for $99. For three crafty weeks I did what I could to circumvent buying the book; I copied pages from fellow students' books, read pages in the reference section at the library (I was not permitted to check it out and could read it for a paltry two hours in a day.)
After three weeks I realised that it was imperative I buy the book. It practically broke my heart to resort to buying such an expensive and utterly useless item.
One afternoon I was walking home from college (it was a small town and one could walk everywhere) with my mind made up. I determined I would do the deed tomorrow. After all, I had been strong for long enough. I had showed them! My grades would suffer if I did not buy my own copy.
There was a thrift store on the corner of my street that I visited from time to time. Or, every day, if I am honest.
So I entered and browsed the bookshelves. Perhaps I expected I might dig up a novel of some sort. I was not presuming to find my text book for 99 cents. But there it was, indeed. It was one of the finest deals of my life, and since then I have had enormous difficulty purchasing books at full price from a chain bookstore. Being a textbook, 99 cents was actually rather expensive; the rest of the paperbacks were priced at around 25 cents.

In the same way that it became challenging for me to buy books at full price when I have found them in thrift stores for as little as 25 cents, it is a matter of principle that my Spouse and I cannot and will not spent $400 each on a flight across the country when we know that at this very moment a traveller could go from one end of Europe to another for 99 cents with My brother uses it all the time. I hope he knows just how lucky he is.
We cannot bring ourselves to spend that kind of money when people we know are getting such excellent deals as part of their ordinary daily life. We have so many friends we want to visit but travelling around the US is impossible for us right now, sadly.
Admittedly, I like Ryanair. To be sure, food is not included in the ticket price but for that money, I'd stand on one leg for the journey, just to be able to travel. They get you where you want to go and it doesn't cost a fortune.

I always laugh when I think of the first time I flew with that airline. My Spouse and I had left Amsterdam seven hours earlier than was required, in order to be 'on time' for our flight to Ireland. I'm quite, shall we say, on edge and a stickler when it comes to being punctual and I detest being at the end of a queue. There is positively nothing wrong with being on time but I do get the feeling sometimes that I spend excess amounts of time worrying about making sure I get my money's worth. You can take it too far. The trouble is, with Ryanair there are no seat assignments and they have a first come, first serve policy, so you may not get a seat at all if you join the queue too late. Even if you succeeded in getting a seat, there may not be two seats together. So I was particularly concerned at this time.

We were right by our gate, standing triumphantly there for two hours before any other travellers joined us. Immediately after that, the line grew to more than a hundred people long. Good, I thought with satisfied glee. We are first. I would not take a break to use the restroom, and I urged my Spouse to stay right by my side. Just in case. One never knows what an airline will do at the last minute. You see, we were so very well prepared.
Shortly before we were due to board, however, my Spouse and I presumably both blinked at the same time.
In that instant, for I promise there was no other opportunity, the gate number changed and the entire line, every soul but us two, moved from our gate to the one immediately on our right. They must have moved in one fluid motion, like the world's biggest centipede, all of a hush so as not to alert the two people who had been waiting the longest and who had left their vacation behind hours too early.
I was livid as I joined the queue. Every person who had been behind us was now standing in front of us. My Spouse is more of the 'it's all right,' type. I am not. I reiterate, I am not. I was boiling.
The gate led, not directly to the plane itself, but to a gigantic courtyard, at the end of which was the jet, and a ladder one would climb to enter the plane.
We watched the passengers go out the gate. When our turn came, my Spouse and I made a pact. We showed our boarding passes, nodded at each other, ran out into that courtyard and, bags jiggling violently, overtook almost every passenger who had usurped us. It seemed they were stuck in mud and we were gliding along. Nothing would stop us. We were running fast enough for us, hopefully, to get good seats. We ran and we ran, ignoring the stupefied faces of the slower passengers. I am sure we broke all codes of honour and no doubt we looked like very rude, impatient people, but of course we were trying to reclaim what was ours to begin with.
The plane had a ladder at each end.
We noticed a large number of passengers were climbing into the near end of the plane and jamming up the front, but nobody was paying attention to the back. We adjusted to turbo speed and hastened to that portion of the plane, hoping to cut those people off before they reached mid plane.
My Spouse was a good 100 feet in front of me and I thought I saw him slow down for a moment, but was too fueled by ambition to pay attention. By the time my brain registered what had happened, it was too late. My Spouse, thinking to take a short cut at an angle, almost ran into the rope that stretched along the side of the plane for restriction purposes. Spouse came within an inch of somersaulting over the rope and into the belly of the plane. I did not know about any of this until I reached the plane and I too was pulled up short, catapult-style, just in time. For a horrifying moment I nearly lost my balance but some shred of dignity, I suppose, kept me on my feet.
It is pathetic, no doubt, but we were hysterical and could scarcely get ourselves up the ladder. When we got onto the plane, most of the seats were empty. I could hardly breathe. I could only picture us—after a day-long, arduous, truculent attempt to gain our seats, which, mind you, included cutting short our vacation—lying on our backs, luggage scattered to the four winds, all the evil passengers laughing at us as they passed us by for the second time.
We surely laughed but I did learn from that experience. If we appear foolish, it is likely no more than how most people must look in a department store on the opening day of a sale, when any shop can suddenly resemble a zoo. Nobody really owns anything and being territorial is so much more pain than it is worth. I was especially tense for those hours that we sacrificed, and for what? To ensure we got the best seats, two seats together, and so on.
It is all part of learning to let go not just of physical things, but also thoughts of 'grabbing' and 'having' and 'possessing'. It may seem like an old fashioned style of living, but if most of what you carry is in your head, nobody can take anything away from you. Less worry, less to lose, happier days.

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