Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Sense of Thrift - A Brigid Guest Post

During a fair bit of the last 20 years, I have been a  sponsor or volunteer at local shelters for the physically abused, many also homeless. People ask why I do it, as it is often depressing, and sometimes futile.

The women there who have been abused (though abuse goes both ways, men also a victim of it) present an image to the world that is often one of stone, hiding the pain, hiding the bruises, until eventually, one night, the stone is shattered by the fury of a long fall or a storm surge. Sometimes it's simply eroded away, what is unique, distinct, worn away over time, as if by water, drop by ceaseless drop. Perhaps with those who will listen and support, some of whom have been there, a little of what is left can be reclaimed, still capable of beauty.

Some of them will go back, the fear of the unknown overwhelming, the knowledge that someone, otherwise, will wish them, forever, anything but peace.  Peace is not often plentiful.  I could almost always guess which ones would go back, they wore that quality of outworn violence like perfume, drawn back to the evangelical zeal of their abuser, simply too tired to fight any longer. It was often a fatal mistake, realized too late, as they were borne beyond the hurt and harm of man, into the ground.

Better they said, to go back, then live homelessly. Some escape, but live for years with their scars.  Those scars are apparent to some, who try and offer a healing balm, but to others, they are but a rattlers warning, a bite to those that don't understand their pain.
Many of us already live homelessly. Not in our dwelling, but in the neighborhood of our true self. We spend years trying to change someone, only to realize the only thing that could change was ourselves. We spend so much time chasing after things, that we ignore what we have here now.

Some of the unhappiest people I know have the most expansive and expensive of possessions. I sold or gave away most of mine several years ago, downsizing to a life much simpler. When I had my taxes done today, the tax guy said "congrats, you are now in the 33% tax bracket, and then looked out on my 12-year-old rusty truck with a wry smile.  After doing my taxes for years, he understands why we live as we do, giving generously to non-profits and veterans groups, helping those in need who after years of hard work, have a family disaster, and giving joyfully to our church. I don't miss the days of big house and BMW, and not an extra cent for anyone but myself.  I have all I need, a family, a warm house, enough food to eat (OK, and a nice collection of Single Malt)

I sometimes look at pictures of that former McMansion home, the two-story entryway, the three car garage, and have a twinge of regret, but it's rare. I could have stayed in that house and my world would have revolved around its upkeep while its value just went down in a crashing marketplace and the people that might have been impressed by it weren't worthy of the efforts.  Or I could pay off debt, learn to do the things to sustain, not just consume. I  could ensure Dad could stay in his home with a nurse as his health declined. I could spend time with people who were important, not just labor for the upkeep of those walls.  It was an easy decision.

I don't own a lot, but if the world falls to ruin tomorrow, I will have enough to survive and the knowledge and means to know enough to protect it.
My parents always helped those that help themselves. Dad, getting his CPA after the military, did income taxes for free for the elderly. He was active in the church and in other organizations, living his life in a brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, as he would say if you asked him. Mom, as well, volunteered at the church and at the local hospital.

There, she was the Tel-Med operator, where people could call and request recordings on medical topics from a published directory that had the topic by number. There was everything from child illnesses, cancer screening, nutrition and baby care to several on sexual issues and other embarrassing personal topics people might be too shy to ask the doctor about.  Dad would disguise his voice and call when she was there and request those "special" numbers just to hear her stammer "thank you" as she was turning red, then she'd exclaim "Bud, it's you isn't it!" and they'd both laugh. But I know he respected her for that volunteer work, even as she herself was battling cancer.
My early career days were such I couldn't volunteer but I did sponsor a child through one of the Christian children's charities, just enough to provide for some schooling and at least one hot, nourishing meal a day. Sponsors were allowed to give extra money, with the stipulation that it would meet a specific need, not to be squandered. So one time, when bills were light, I sent a few hundred dollars I had saved up, with a specific need in mind.

I got a letter back from the little girl I sponsored in Africa, Louise Marie, handwritten, with colorful crayon drawings of a little house with a roof and a door, with little Crayola cartoon chickens and smiling children gathered around.  You see, before the gift, her family had been living on the ground, in a lean-to, her widowed mother's $50 a month income as a sustenance farmer not enough for real shelter. With the money and the assistance of the charitable foundation, they built a house.  It wasn't a house like you and I expect to live in. But it was a grand house to them, with four walls to protect them from those that would rob or hurt, a floor and a real roof to keep the water and elements out.
Some folks would say I spend too much money on firearms or tools. I don't mind spending money on something that has a use, retains its value and can be passed down to generations. I have absolutely no issues with spending money on those tools that can protect my life and others.  I have a hard time spending money on just "stuff". A woman I knew from a community organization, proudly showed off her $500 designer purse one day.  She has about 20 purses (I'm not kidding), but this one was special because, well. . . . it was $500!

I don't have a $500 purse. Until I was in my late 20's I didn't even have a $500 car.  But I have friends that share my table that would take a bullet for me to keep me safe. I have the openness of the horizon and the strength of my free will. I have freedom,I have my faith in God, I have balance and I have people that share my life that totally understand this. For this, I am grateful and try to do what I can to give some of that back.
Hopefully, most of you won't ever get to the point where you have nothing left of yourself but the letters of your name and what you can shove in a suitcase. Most of you won't give away most of your stuff and totally change how you live when you don't have to. But when you do pare down, by circumstance or by choice, it is quietly liberating, as you discover just what it is that was, still is, precious to you, what is worth your time and attention.

Thoreau once said, "The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.". That meant little to me when I first read it in English class. It would mean little to people who have had everything handed to them, with little effort,  the cost of their education, their sustenance, their lifestyle. After years of sweat, tears and hard work, I understood, having long ago severed ties with things, even people, who gave me only pain for my efforts, for, in the end, such things, by their exchange, violated my sense of thrift.
As snow clouds gather on the horizon, I look out towards the trees, to the chattering of birds as I step outside with a furry little Rescue dog.  On the ground two doves, who when Abby approaches them, run, don't fly away, their brain not sensing the danger.  Fortunately, she shows no interest in their harm.  Above, two cardinals flutter like two tiny flags amongst the branches, then fly away, as if the wind dispersed them like small scraps of cloth.  On the railing, a small sparrow, looking a little worse for wear, looking at the empty feeder, watching me carefully, wondering if I will harm or help. On the air, the echo of all of their cries, mournful and plaintive, barely heard above the wind.

I think of the Bible Verse "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"  I look at the fridge, as I enter my home, to a little picture, drawn with the colors of hope.

Today, I live so much more simply, surrounding myself with those with whom I share a personal history as well as those possessions which I know serve a useful function.  On days where doubt raises its head, as to my worth, as to my place in the world, I simply look at that little picture and smile broadly, no longer hearing the echo of invisible bruises. Life is a risk, never a possession, live, and love, accordingly. - Brigid


Ed Bonderenka said...

I think of the Bible Verse "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"
My retirement plan is investing in the Kingdom.
We'll see how it goes.
We've supported a lot of Compassion children over the years.
One of the biggest blessings was to have one of them who used to haul buckets of water for a mile or more graduate college, friend me on FB and post "I am who I am today because of Ed and Scherie".
I don't share this to brag, but to encourage.
Brigid: Well done faithful servant.

waepnedmann said...


Bob said...

I grew up not knowing the real difference between the essential things - - tools, basic wardrobe, basic furnishings - - and extraneous things. Too, I was influenced by the Boy Scout slogan "Be Prepared!" even though I wasn't a Scout, and Batman's utility belt with its abundance of useful gadgets was also an influence. The idea of giving away everything and going on pilgrimage a la Buddha was foreign to me, as was the Catholic monk concept of renouncing all possessions and living in a cell. And yet, getting rid of the extraneous stuff and living more simply has become more attractive as I age. The old saying "You spend the first half of your life accumulating possessions and the second half trying to get rid of them" shows remarkable knowledge of human behavior, doesn't it?

Old NFO said...

Well said. Thank you for reminding us of what we need to look to, and it's really the simple things.

pigpen51 said...

I have followed you for quite some time, and am always blessed whenever I find another of your posts. And it seems that they always come at an appropriate time. Perhaps you are able to sense when people need to hear a certain word about a topic, or as is more likely, I have many issues bouncing around in my head, and when ever you post about one of them, it jumps out and is tickled.
I do think that Bob hit it on the head when he said that we try to get rid of baggage as we age. For me, at least, I had to learn that, even though I have so very many different hobbies, accumulated over my lifetime, I have to grab hold of just one, possibly two, and ride it for all I can, and let go of all the rest.
I am a musician, and have been for most of my life, playing most instruments, which is great, but which I had to give up, since it is so expensive to maintain, and takes up so much room. I have not played out professionally for years, and so that is also the expense factor. I am also an amateur radio operator, and have been since I was 12, but I can't justify the expense and the room it takes up to do that much. A simple walkie talkie is all I have now, and that is the extent of it.
I have a number of others hobbies that I have let go, and have pretty much settled on hunting and fishing as my only outlets. Mostly because I am able to do them either alone or with friends or my kids. I have a son that is into the outdoors, and so we do a lot of both hunting and fishing, and my daughter and her husband like to target shoot, and so we can do that together.
I have the equipment, and so the cost of both of these things is actually minimal, and I do them outdoors and so it keeps me moving and not under foot.

Mostly, you have to learn to be at peace with both yourself and with the world. I think that is what most people struggle with, and what makes things the hardest about everything else. I know that is what I tend to get caught up with, when I have problems with any other area of my life. It is usually not the other area of my life, it is simply myself that I am not content with or not happy with, that makes me fight with my wife or kids or mad at the tv or the price of tea in china. If I can recognize it, then I get myself back on the right track. But usually it takes several weeks, before I figure it out. I know, it isn't fair to my wife, kids, curtis mathis, or china. But the one that really suffers is me. And I am learning, just slowly. The Lord is a good teacher, I am just a poor pupil. But thanks for this fantastic post Brigid, as always it is thought provoking and it gives you a picture in your mind.