Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Taking What You Need

“The hardest thing is to take less when you can get more”
-Kin Hubbard

I have already mentioned several times my Achilles' heel in simple living: I am fond of books and all-you-can-eat buffet.
The first time I saw a buffet was few years ago; I was almost hesitant to go back for a second plate. I can barely imagine that now, given how much I eat when we do go out. I thought that somebody would 'catch me' so to speak, and throw me out of the restaurant.
I make sure that I am hungry when I go to a buffet but somehow, no matter how much food I eat, I always have to be coaxed reluctantly out of there.
Somewhere inside me, I have the feeling that I am wasting it; we have paid for it, I am entitled to it, I could have more- so why don't I?

Recently I stumbled upon an out-of-the-way place I had previously only seen in my dreams.
I found a bookshelf in the woods that held about three thousand books.
The idea was that you could come by and choose to leave your unwanted books to be reused, but at the same time you could take anything you wanted from the shelf. Anything, any number. I swear I had dreamed it before.
We dropped off about 150 books in this magical place and once we had put them tidily on the shelf, we set to work picking out new books.
My Spouse and I thought we were in heaven, we truly did. I kept looking around to check if I had woken up yet but we were still surrounded by books and trees.
Other people were there too, gently leafing through hundreds of books.
How many should I take?
I had a number in mind which closely resembled the number we had just dropped off. I know the idea had been to get rid of things but this was an opportunity for us to pick up some new books. At the worst, we would end up with the same number of books in our house we had that morning.
I started pulling books off the shelf. I could hardly breathe. I could take this one or that, it didn't matter: they were all FREE!
My Spouse came quietly up to my side and said something about “taking it easy.”
What in the world? I thought crossly, what a golden opportunity to have fresh books and you talk about only taking a few?
I attempted to hand over the bundle of books to my Spouse and said “if you take these to the car, I'll free up my arms and I can keep looking.”
My Spouse said “no.”
I was stunned.
“But I can hardly carry what I've got! My arms are sore.”
“Then maybe you have taken enough?” was the reply.
At first I was frustrated, and then I thought more about it. We were trying to make our lives easier, and lighter. I remembered a Zen line about the 'refreshing whinny of a packhorse unloaded of everything' and I stopped grabbing books for a moment . I pictured us inside a small moving truck, on a long road with just a few precious books, our computer, some mementos. I added a few hundred more books to that vision and suddenly the truck got bigger. I looked more carefully and saw that while we were driving one moving truck there was another one in front of us, also full of our things. And one behind us, too...the road was full of moving trucks that belonged to us!

That was extremely difficult. I love books more than anything and the possibility of only taking a handful was devastating to me. The alternative, however, was not very pleasant. Either we wanted to be lighter, or we did not. I longed to take as many as possible because they were 'there' and I considered it a waste if I did not. I forgot to consider that somebody else would come to this spot and make use of the books and that nothing would, in the end, be wasted. And even if the books were destined to be burned, in the worst case, all I needed to do was take a decent, simple amount of books and be happy.

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