Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Value, and values, clarified

In a time of limited supply, of uncertain future, one must consider the true, lasting values of things.

We’re pinching pennies here. And that’s forcing us to consider some things from a new point of view. We’re prioritizing like never before. We’ve done that in the past, certainly, but probably not to this degree—at least not since college or those first poor years after graduating. And not since we had a child and dropped to a single income.

Is a new cell phone necessary? No. Come to think of it, is a cell phone necessary? Nope. We already ditched cable several years ago. It’s like sugar; I miss it less and less as time goes by. Once you’re distanced from the unnecessary item, you can begin to recognize it for what it is: a sweet but shallow substitute for something really satisfying…like carbs. Sigh. (I’ll never stop missing those…)

We’re even re-thinking home projects. Which ones will provide the most bang for our buck? The continued yard re-design? Or painting the front trim on the house? Or the ugliest of all: the remodeling of and wood stove addition to the basement? We’re leaning toward the basement work, which is of course the most expensive project. But we know a long, lonely winter is coming, and we’d rather be ready for that than gazing out upon a lovely, refinished, snow-covered yard. Warmth will likely matter more than beauty. In the end it always does, just like brute strength is always the inevitable decider.

The people of this country are being forced to consider true values of things; that much has been evident in the last few weeks. Yes, my doctor is hard to reach, and sometimes I think he gives me too much medicine… But boy, I like being able to pick which doc I see. I like knowing that I have options when it comes to all that expensive medicine. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason people leave Canada to have surgery elsewhere. Yes, sometimes folks leave the States to have surgery elsewhere, but I believe the bulk of those cases involves elective, mostly cosmetic surgery, and I just can’t put that in the same category as surgery surgery.

As humans, it’s our nature to weigh the value of something only when we’re in danger of losing it… or have already lost it. I’ve been down that path with jobs and money recently. I’ve traveled that road with relationships of all kinds, with personal freedoms that are threatened, with both potential and realized losses of everything from friends to “me” time. In jeopardy, we are often forced to wax deeply and philosophically about how important something really is. Thankfully, desperate times give us clearer lenses. Perhaps that’s why it’s taken so long for the American people to wake the #*&! up and rebel a little bit. Times haven’t been desperate enough to stir us to serious thought and action.

It feels like we’re there now, doesn’t it? Uncertainties and untruths abound. Jobs disappear. Control is sought and wrestled for. It’s feeling sort of desperate to me. And as a result, honest and genuine worth is becoming easier to spot.

We sat out on the porch yesterday, watching a storm. Rain misted over us, the boy pointed at lightning, we all jumped when thunder shook, my husband pulled a blanket up over his son’s legs to keep them dry. It was a valuable and worthwhile moment, not to be missed but to be held dear. If we’d been rolling in the money, comfortably ensconced in a job and busy-ness, we probably wouldn’t have been there, perhaps wouldn’t have even been home. We might have missed it, groveling for that extra dime.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say; I guess I’m just urging us all to savor this moment of clarity and seek truth and wisdom instead of pursuing further distraction. Myself included. Because clarity can be frightening, and may even require some painful prioritization and uncomfortably expressed passion for that which we hold dear. I’m not getting a new cell phone, and I’m not being unpatriotic when I speak up against something that I think is a bad idea. I’m putting my money where I think it belongs, not where the culture tells me. I’m putting my foot down when I see cockroaches under it. I’m standing by what’s really meaningful, what lasts.

We’ll ride this out, all of us, by clinging to the important stuff. Hold tightly to it.


Kathleen Cahalan said...

I can appreciate the ideas in your post and I have also been questioning my "necessities" these days. Some of those niceties are a real distraction from much more important endeavors. And your home is lovely. And while those upgrades would be nice, they certainly wouldn't make a bit of difference to how you feel about each other and how you experience your life together. Hey, good luck on that new job, Mel. I'm praying that it'll be a comfortable transtion for you, Todd, and Marcus.

Facie said...

As someone whose last day on the job was five months ago today(!), I too have tried to think about what is important. Being with my kid all this time was far more meaningful than buying new clothes, going out to lunch every week, getting new carpet, etc.

I am not much into material things, although I must admit when we were at the beach, I told myself maybe finding a good-paying job should be a high priority. I could understand why people spend all that money for one week of happiness.

I admire very few people when it comes to money; I think too many are way to into material things and so many live beyond their means. But I have looked to you as a role model, as someone who has always seemed to have her priorities straight.

I know I am still not ready to follow your path completely (I love cable, HD TV, DVR), but reading about your life and just knowing how you live keeps it in the back of my mind. So thanks!

Mel said...

ladies, thank you sincerely for your compliments, and encouragements about the upcoming job. if we can all take some good things out of this sagging economy, and use it to improve the quality of our own little lives, then it won't have been such a bad thing. look at how grounded, frugal, and ingenious the depression survivors are!