Archive for Monday, May 12, 2008

Priorities: What we love, what we ‘use’

May 12, 2008


I usually hit delete even before reading sappy e-mail forwards. The older you get, the more of them come your way. They come from friends who've lost husbands through death or divorce, or newly retired women who sit at their computer early in the morning - as you get older you start waking up ridiculously early. As they sip their coffee, they begin reading and passing on the forwards that have come in from other friends who are also up way too early.

I wonder what women alone did in those early morning hours before computers? Men alone with too much time on their hands seem to pass on raunchy jokes. Well, actually, quite a few of my women friends also forward raunchy jokes. The butt of their jokes are usually men - the same kind of men passing on their brand of raunch. God bless them all.

Anyway, I was deleting a nice little sentimental forward from someone I'm very fond of, but happened to read the last two lines just before I hit delete.

"People are made to be loved, and things are made to be used - there is so much confusion in this world because people are being used and things are being loved."

That line cut through my morning haze, and stayed with me throughout the day.

I'm at that crossroads with "things" again as I'm packing up to move from one house to another. I just did this a year ago prior to my cross-country move from Washington, D.C., to Lawrence. I thought I had stripped my "things" down to the bare minimum but now am discovering I kept a lot of things I don't need. But this time it's easier. Anything I haven't used or haven't worn in the year since moving to Lawrence is going out - that is unless it carries sentimental/historical significance that outweighs the usefulness factor. Therein lies the rub. I'm pretty sentimental ... and obsessed with family history.

It has started this whole debate in my head. Why do we become so attached to things? Why do people work two jobs, barely seeing their families, so they can own a bigger flatscreen TV or a third family car? Why are people in urban areas willing to live in far-out suburbs and commute three hours a day on ridiculously clogged roads so they can live in a bigger house? Why do people charge up their credit cards beyond all ability to pay in order to buy things they want but don't need or take risky mortgages for houses they can't afford? Why do otherwise good people continually shortchange the ones they love just so they can acquire more things? We do it at the personal level. We also do it at the national level, sacrificing people so we can acquire territory or material. (At the state level, many legislators seem willing to sacrifice Kansans' health to give Denver the electricity to sprawl farther). We see it in our judiciary when harsher punishments are meted out for crimes against property than for crimes against people.

A couple of years ago when teaching in an affluent suburban high school, I asked my students to turn in essays imagining their futures in 20 years. They all turned in essays about the fancy cars and fancy homes they hoped to own down the road. So I'm not too confident that values are going to turn around in the next generation.

And now that times are getting tough - come on, we're in a recession, we all know it - the really big question is: Why does our whole economy rise or fall based on how much stuff "consumers" buy? Since that's the case, by the way, the whole stimulus package to stave off recession will fail if people use that $600 check from the government to pay off debt or (gasp!) save it. The government economic experts aren't worried, however. They know that if you give Americans $600, they will run out and spend it on THINGS.

(I plan to spend my check on a local moving company.)

So, back to my things - the things I've bought over a lifetime, half of which I didn't really need and now ought to part with. As I pack, the rule is going to be: Keep the things I use. Cherish the people I love. Don't get the two confused.

The things go in boxes. The people remain in my heart - they are easier to move because they are buoyant. Their presence in my life or in my memory, make the things in my boxes less important and easier to lift.

Elizabeth Black is a writer living in Lawrence. A southwest Kansas native who attended Kansas University, she recently returned to Lawrence after living in Chicago and then on the East Coast for more than 30 years.


canyon_wren 10 years ago

supercow--you obviously are pretty young, or it would make more sense to you. Maybe you are just not familiar with a lot of different styles of writing. I thought it was quite cohesive and certainly appealed to me in many ways. And it was "right on" as far as describing society's trend toward valuing possessions--the bigger, the better--over more important things like family relationships, etc. Save this "essay" and read it when you are in your 60s and you may understand it better.

cato_the_elder 10 years ago

Corrector, you are of course correct, but you can't expect a leftist who has moved to Lawrence to be with the other leftists to understand it or agree with you, especially when (a) she and the politicians she supports have to criticize what has actually been an amazingly resilient economy in order to sell their snake oil in November, and (2) she thinks that there is something wrong with young people wanting to earn enough money to afford nice houses and cars when they get older. From what I have read of this author since she graced us with her presence here leads me to believe that her vision of the "American Dream" probably has us all living in tents using one hour of electricity a day from the wind turbines located on our collective farms.

supercowbellninja 10 years ago

woah, woah! I get the point about material goods and the value of memories and friendships and all that stuff, but man, this thing is all over the place! Why not write a column about the recession, and another about teaching high school, and another about credit card debt. Ok, sure they are all connected to some degree, but I thought they were all shoe-horned into this column in very rag-tag manner with little or no linear thought! Let's expand on one or two of these and not just touch-and-go on them all at once!And, would it kill this writer to not write in the first person every single time?

ModSquadGal 10 years ago

Geez people, miss the point much? This is a great article, very poignant. If you didn't get anything out of it other than sentence structure or the definition of recession, you are exactly the folks about whom she's talking.We should all take a little time to appreciate what we have. Be present, grateful, and knowledgeable about what truly has value.

Tony Kisner 10 years ago

Supercow - this one is actually better than her past attempts.So many issues so little time.

supercowbellninja 10 years ago

oh snap - I feel totally at a loss for....umm...words? You people get so bent out of shape if anyone comments on here and doesn't offer a big hug or congratulatory handshake for forming a complete sentence and getting it published.I don't like this writing - I tried - and I still don't get it. I think it rambles, I think it's indulgent, and I think it's about 5 paragraphs too long. I like the idea behind it but it needs to be refined and tightened up instead of allowed to touch-and-go off major national issues and generalized personal memories Now, proceed with the jokes about my age and reading level because that's clearly as high as your intellect can reach in a healthy debate.

canyon_wren 10 years ago

supercow--you just don't get it. I'll bet you never got much beyond Dick, Jane and Sally in your reading. Your loss!

supercowbellninja 10 years ago

Uhh.... What? This column is all over the map! Email forwards, tax refund checks, credit card debt, high school teaching assignments, etc.I think the author is well-intentioned, but needs badly to have some organization to her thoughts - this was too disorganized to make any sense from start to finish. It is evident when the writer is forced to use awkward transitions such as "Anyway" and "So, back to my things." If the writer would spend some extra minutes condensing her thoughts, I think this would have been a decent column.Instead, I thought it was incredibly scattered and indulgent.

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