I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Living large and living small

The view of Mt. Baker from my living room
Yesterday I was looking out my front door when I saw this contrail cloud pointing almost directly to the tiny little view I have of Mt. Baker from my living room. After two years in this apartment, I've grown very accustomed to the variety of looks the mountain has. When I can see it, that is. It's much more likely that I look out my front door and see grey skies, maybe with a bit of moisture. In this part of the country, I've heard people say "the mountain is out" when referring to Mt. Rainier showing its face from Seattle. Well, for me it's Mt. Baker, and the mountain has been out much more this summer than I remember from years past.

I've been thinking about what it means to "live large," hence the title of this post. If you look up the definition, it refers to being wealthy and using that wealth in extravagant and ostentatious ways. But there are many ways to look at what it means to live large, in my opinion. Maybe it means using your wealth to buy multiple homes and houses and needing to have all that money to sustain your lifestyle. Those who let their needs mushroom along with their money never feel wealthy, but just stuck in the need to acquire more and more stuff.

For one thing, if you don't have your health, it doesn't matter at all how much money you have, since you don't enjoy it. That's one thing you can never buy, that and peace of mind. It seems to me that having too much money can be counterproductive to happiness. And after all, isn't that what all of us really want? To be happy? The consumer culture that permeates our lives here in the United States, perhaps everywhere, makes us want what someone else has. If I had that new car, the big house filled with the latest appliances, I would be happy then, right?

I don't think so. But then again, I'll never have to worry about having too much money. I've never had the acquisitive gene, and I was fortunate to marry someone who has even less of it than I do. I may not acquire expensive and fancy things, but I tend to hold onto things I don't need or use any more for way too long. Smart Guy, on the other hand, regularly purges his closet to rid himself of those items he doesn't wear or use any more. He also does the same thing with the food in the refrigerator. Before I met him, there would be little containers of leftovers in there that I would finally throw out. He doesn't allow that to happen, and if there is something I don't remember I left in there, he strategically places it in front so I can't help but see it. He's thrifty, and I guess you could call that living small.

Although I don't have much money, I feel as though I live large, since I always had enough of everything I ever wanted to have. I remember years ago when I first went to work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). It was in 1979, and I considered myself to be a hippie, back in the days when we were ubiquitous, and the only clothes I owned were jeans and t-shirts. Fortunately for me, there was no dress code at NCAR, so I didn't need to change my clothing habits to work there. The other secretaries dressed up much more than I did, but even they didn't seem to mind. In fact, I realized that the PhD scientists dressed just like me! It was only the female hourly wage earners who looked well put together.

When the weather turned cold, I went to Goodwill and got myself a down jacket, which didn't look all that good, and my boss decided I needed a better looking jacket and gave me a purple down coat he didn't wear because of the color. (It was perfect for me, though.) That began our relationship of him giving me things he no longer wanted. I was always happy to receive them, but that old habit I had of accumulating stuff required me to begin to give away things to others. It worked well, and I still get a great deal of enjoyment by giving away something I don't use any more to someone else who needs it.

I suppose if I were to win the lottery, I'd be forced to change my lifestyle. Or would I? Could I still be happy living the way I do if I had millions of dollars in the bank? I recently learned that Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest people on the planet, still lives in the same house he bought in 1957. He also once said that his children will not inherit great sums of money when he dies, because he wants them to have enough to believe they can do anything, but not so much that they believe they don't need to do anything at all.

When I am feeling good, the world looks bright and filled with promise. There's that same old problem of health being more important, at least to me, than any other kind of wealth. When I'm feeling sick, or start to worry about my health because of some new ache or pain, it wouldn't matter at all how much money I had in the bank: I'd be unhappy. So, therefore, it makes sense to me to concentrate first and foremost on doing everything I can to keep my physical and mental self as healthy and happy as possible. Of course, we all get sick, we all get older and more and more infirm. It's the way of things. And that doesn't change with money in the bank.

The most amazing thing has begun to happen as I get older and begin to feel my age: I'm beginning to accept it all, in ways I could never have even imagined when I was fifty, or even sixty. There is some kind of gentle tolerance that comes to me sometimes, and I think about how fortunate I am to be in my seventies and able to indulge in so many activities that give me pleasure. I can still skydive, although I choose not to do it for much longer. I go hiking with my senior buddies every week; I walk and read and have great conversations with my friends and family. There are many things that have fallen away because of age, it's the way of life. But I'm still living large, to me, and I've been blessed with relatively good health, a good mind, and people who love me and who I also love.

The brilliant sunshine just began to pour into the room as the sun rises, reminding me that it's getting to be time to get out of bed. My partner still sleeps beside me, although I see some stirring. My tea is gone, and my post is almost written. It's not what I thought I was going to write about, but it almost never is.

I'll pull out my skydiving gear and head to the Drop Zone today for another chance to jump out of perfectly good airplanes for no reason at all except that it's fun. And I will wish you, my dear reader, another satisfying week before we meet again.


Anonymous said...

Above all, avoid stress (mental and physical), because stress can kill you just as much as a bad diet can. I wouldn't mind having lots of money, though. haha!

Marty said...

So many useful thoughts here. I should print it up and post it on the fridge!

troutbirder said...

So different in some ways but mostly so very much alike in our values and attitudes, DJ. I like to think I've lived large most of my life on a modest salary and retirement and also been mostly a prudent carefully planned risk taker....:)

Far Side of Fifty said...

Attitude! We live comfortably...not large not small just in between. I need to purge my closet...I tend to hang onto clothing too long..I save stuff I really like for "good" and I should just wear them out!
Ack the million dollar dream...I would like to travel more...and put the Grands through college:)

Elephant's Child said...

The push to acquire things isn't living large (in my head) but living greedy and living cluttered. That said, my home and my life are too cluttered - but I am working on it.
Have a great jump, and a great week.

Friko said...

You are a philosopher, a truly wise and contented person, one I very much wish to emulate.

To be satisfied with what one has (after all most of us connected through blogging have sufficient means for our needs and a little extra) makes for a peaceful existence.

Like you I believe that getting older helps us along the way to gentle acceptance. I am glad that it is so.

I too live large on very little money compared to rich people but a heck of a lot where the have nots are concerned.

Arkansas Patti said...

To me you are a fine example of living large. You spend your personal assets--health, interest in life--caring for others--desire to learn new things, etc with controlled abandon. That to me is living large, not spending a ton of money on things that just don't matter. Possessions that count rarely fit into a box of any size.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

You're a Sagittarius through and through, looking for the big picture, never deterred by details. Kudos to you, DJan. You are redefining the archetype of this sign.

Stella Jones said...

Yes, nice thoughts. As we get older, we don't need so much stuff and we should give it away and let someone else get the benefit of it. I'm learning that lesson slowly.

Meryl Baer said...

I was very lucky because I always had enough to pay the bills and put food on the table. Sometimes barely managing, other times, including life now, there
is enough plus. Wealth in our society is highly overrated.

#1Nana said...

I think that happiness is all about being satisfied with what you have, and accepting that less is more.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, the word that comes to my mind often as I wend my way through any given day is "contentment." I'm feeling content with the life I've lived. Content and grateful for all the friends and family members, the cats with whom I've lived, and the joys I've known. To grow older and to be grateful for health and friendship and the ability to enjoy so many things is to know, I think, that we are all part of a great wholeness.

By the way, I'm reading a nonfiction book I think you'd find engrossing. It's "A Fighting Chance" by Elizabeth Warren, who's the senior US senator from Massachesetts. She writes so well and what she says is so accessible. Not dry at all. Peace.

Glenda Beall said...

When I am well and feeling good, my life is wonderful. When I have an ailment as I had for the past three months I am down, afraid my life will not be what I want anymore. But now that my pain is gone and I am back on track with my teaching, my studio and my writing, I am on top of the world and so grateful for what I have. Your post is thought provoking and I love the gentle acceptance of growing older.

amanda said...

I like the balance you've found of living large and living small, DJan.
Like you, we don't see the sense in the consumerism of our world.
I'm incredibly thrifty, and love it. I probably don't always have to be, but being thrifty contributes to us being able to live comfortably within our means, while ENJOYING life, rather than working nonstop to pay for things we don't need.
I read this quote that stuck with me: “Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.” We don't do that kind of normal. :)
I hope to live large, in the sense of filling the days of my life with as much experience I can. But within small means. It doesn't take much to make me happy.
You always offer such good food for thought!