There was a thread recently on the issue of debt, and it touched on our motivations for spending beyond our means. I feel that on one level, it stems from a starvation of the spirit; we feel isolated and fearful, and like infants we reach out to any object within our grasp for reassurance. One unintended consequence is that this infantile clinging to possessions can isolate us even further. We become infatuated with status symbols, and even get territorial. I'm not calling for a property-less world, but I suspect a deeper perspective of "it's only stuff" would go a long way toward a healthier world. It would enable us to let go of things when their usefulness passes, enriching community for everyone as we respond to one anothers' material needs on a more personal level.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in one of the finest school districts in the United States, but I've noticed that over the years I've become a little complacent in my intellectual pursuits. It's easy to let habit take over in the absence of some outside force holding one accountable. Last year I decided to push back with a reading program to fill the gaps in my formal education. I read a lot of authors from the literary canon in school, but somehow I missed several heavyweights like Dante, Plato, and Darwin. I'm a free spirit by nature, so I've let impulse guide me though a list of classics. My dog has been helpful as well with his own program of eating some of the finest offerings of my own home collection. Border collies really are natural leaders! I know I'd be lost without him.
My library card has been my best friend through the process. It was a great partnership until a flash flood devastated my city's main downtown branch a few weeks ago. Not only did the flood close down the physical facility but several citywide online resources as well - gone are the interlibrary loan service, the ability to transfer any books to another branch for pickup, and even sections of the overall catalog. In the meantime I've plumbed the depths of my own bookshelves, but I've been a little frustrated. I haven't enjoyed that "kid in a candy store" sense of fun in a while now, and it's affected my motivation. My fearless leader solved the problem this morning. We were out on our morning walk when he pulled me toward a small cardboard box brimming with paperbacks. I looked down expecting to see a stash of bodice-rippers, but I was overjoyed to find several serious authors. Mailer! Thoreau! Atwood! Nin! Burgess! And that's just the top layer of the box. I did find a couple of mildew spots, but otherwise they were in perfect condition.
This box should keep me off the streets for quite a while. When I'm done? I think the only appropriate course would be to share and share alike, as the previous owner did. I used to donate my used books to the library until a friend with a checkered past made a very compelling argument. Books are a lifeline for a literal captive audience, and all his reading inspired him to write a novel of his own. It was a critical step in his own recovery as a productive citizen. So I'll drop them off at the county jail and give the inmates respite from the back issues of Better Homes and Gardens I saw littering the bin last time I made a donation. I hope they enjoy them. And if they don't? That's all right.
After all, it's only stuff.
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