Friday, November 27, 2009
Listen to Your Grandparents
Thanksgiving's a great time to get together with relatives. Somehow it's not nearly so emotionally loaded as that Christmas/Hanukkah/Epiphany/Kwanzaa/New Year season. Families just sit down to a meal. No gifts, no nostalgia for Thanksgivings past, no tears, no pressure. And if you're lucky, everybody talks. It can be really interesting.
This year was a good year. The talk turned to politics, then the economy. And we had the good fortune to have three people at the table who've passed their eightieth birthdays and appear likely to be around for another decade. They had some very interesting observations about the world we live in.
"We have never owed anyone anything," one couple told us. "We bought a house when we could pay cash. Now we own several and rent them out. We don't carry balances on our credit cards. We drive a ten year old car. We don't eat out much."
Don't pity them. They don't live a deprived life. They have two vacation homes (they rent them out in the prime season so they pay for themselves), they travel, they collect art. But they respect the money they've made in their professions and spend it only on things that really matter to them.
"We don't spend what we don't have."
They say that's where they see today's society going wrong.
"What is Black Friday all about? What are they buying?" they asked in genuine bemusement.
Good question. Electronics, apparently. The latest gotta-have-it goody that will be obsolete in three months and broken in six months to a year.
I'm torn. I like my modern conveniences. I like my computer (except when a virus tries to sneak on board, as it did this morning. That just infuriates me. Why can't PC's be reliably virus-free?), I like my washer and dryer, I like central heat. But I find myself longing for an off grid lifestyle that's simpler, that lets me unplug - no, that FORCES me to unplug. I'm a lazy slug. I'll watch TV when I could read. I'll read when I could write. And my back tells me my days of hauling wood and shoveling snow are over - doubt I'd last long if I had to heat with wood now.
But I don't want a cell phone - I have a cheapo pay as you go because my job requires it. I don't use it for much else. I have one television. I'd like to throw it out the window but I still watch it. I don't need a PalmPre, an iPhone, a hURL, a wEDGIE, a sLice or any other cutesie name they may come up with for yet another piece of technology that plugs me into the grid.
For Christmas, I want some good company and good conversation. I want to be with people who like to laugh. I don't want to go to the mall and I don't anyone going there for me. I'd rather we all saved our money for what really matters to each of us.
For me, the best gift would be a little more peace - not only in the world, but in my own little corner of it. We all deserve it.