Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Saturday, December 15, 2007

An Elegant Sufficiency

"I've had an elegant sufficiency; any more would be an obnoxious superfluity."
-Aunty Nora

Years ago I used to get great joy from jesting with my mother in any way I could. We both still drink a good deal of tea and as every tea-drinker knows, it is vital to have a biscuit or piece of cake with each cup.
We would sit in the living room beside the roaring fire, she in her armchair and I on the other side. The chairs had wide arms, ample room for a cup and a selection of biscuits. My mother would invariably leave two or three biscuits next to her while she sipped.
One evening I took it into my head to play a trick. I vaguely pretended to fetch something near her chair. I stood up, discreetly added an extra biscuit to her pile and returned to my place.
Eventually, of course, her fingers reached for the next biscuit and she consumed it without thought. I stood up, added another biscuit and kept on drinking my tea. She was so engrossed in the television that she ate six biscuits before beginning to wonder slightly, and eight before she sat bolt upright and asked herself what was going on. I was in fits of giggles by that time and there was no more obvious culprit. I had wanted to see, I told her, how long she could go on eating before it dawned that her supply was not diminishing at all. She called me, I recall, a "rotter" and I was never able to pull off that trick again. She would always catch me in time and force me to return the biscuit to the box.

Although my poor mother was but an innocent victim in my heartless game, I believe it nonetheless emphasises our assumption that resources are unlimited. Most of us are a little bit like that: we don't see the bottom of the well and we assume it will always be full of water when we need it. Yes, we think, let's stretch our hand out one last time. There may be one more good thing waiting for us.
Credit cards are a fine example of this. We near, then bypass our limit and keep on spending until we are at last forced to halt, not by our satisfaction and declaration of having enough, but by the people we owe money to.
If we paused to question what is 'enough' instead of waiting until the proverbial biscuit box is empty, fingers scrabbling over dusty crumbs, we might learn to enjoy what we have, look forward with patience to the next treat, and leave something behind when we have finished taking what we need.

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