Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, October 18, 2007

For What?

A commuter shaves and takes the train, and then rides back to shave again.
-E. B. White

People hardly stop to ask what all the shopping and buying is actually doing to benefit them. Looking at material possessions from another point of view, the things we own do not help us one whit.
They make us work longer hours so we can, just barely, afford them.
They make us bitter and possessive when Mr. Jones next door has a smaller/bigger/newer/faster/different coloured model.
We are in constant need of new storage space for them.
We worry that we cannot protect them and that somebody will steal them from under our noses.
We worry they might break down and leave us bereft.
They kill dreams: we cannot very well move to that little log cabin in the woods or to an exotic country while lugging around a 60 inch television or three cars.

The E.B. White line I quoted above strikes home with me for its representation of the foolish strides people will take in order to have a 'good life.' It reminds me that existence is meaningless if we live only to make money, never asking if perhaps there are things we could do without, thus invalidating the need to work every waking hour. In my mind, I try to visualise this commuter of E.B. White's; he owns a house many miles from where he works. He cannot afford to live closer to his workplace because it is much more costly and of course he has the house to pay for, and always something to be in debt about, be it birthdays or dining out or repainting and redecorating the entire house once a year. Perhaps he has children. Yes, they are expensive.

Baby gates, for example. I am not particularly fond of them. My Spouse recently spoke with his brother, who mentioned that his small son is now moving about, soon to be on his feet. The subject of baby gates arose. My Spouse's brother said he had not, and would not, buy a baby gate. He said it was merely a “phase” the baby was going through, and that all they had to do was be more careful and watch out for the baby. It was as simple as that but startlingly profound in its straightforwardness. Despite everyone chiming in about how wonderful and necessary they are, one parent was able to see clearly that it is only as important as you make it. Everything, in one way or another, can be managed without. Was there not a world before baby gates existed? It is refreshing to see there are parents who feel that responsibility for a child's safety should not be given to a packaged item constructed by a stranger.

When I was growing up we had neither washing machine nor dryer; everything was scrubbed in a bathtub and dried on a clothesline outdoors. It is not much of an argument to say that times are faster and busier now; there was an age—before my time—when families had perhaps six times the number of children they might do today, and somehow there was time for cleaning clothes and cooking fresh food. I myself do not understand how things can have changed so vastly that this kind of life has become impossible. It is not normal anymore. Perhaps most of us are afraid, in one way or another. Afraid that Mr. Jones from next door will 'win' if we choose to plant a vegetable garden, stop buying the most fashionable things, give up the accessories and the necessity for both couples to work. Surely it cannot be poles apart from the era I just hearkened back to? I have an idea we worry too much about what other people think of us.

I would like to advise that commuter, should I meet him on a morning train, that he ought to make a list of what he works for, all the things he suspects he should own.

I do not doubt that a typical counter to the whole discussion would be: 'but those hard working people would have valued and treasured a washing machine or a car.' Yes, they would. They would. But not if it meant Mr. Commuter could only come home to shave.

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