When I was younger, and a bit of a speed demon, I not only liked driving fast I also liked seeing how far I could coast. I know you’re not supposed to do it, but I used to kick my VW (back in days when you didn’t worry about what “model” VW you had because there were only “Bugs” and “Kombi’s”) out of gear and see how far I could coast.
More often than not I did it as we approached a stop light. I’d try to gauge how far we were from the light when it turned red and kick it out of gear and coast so we were still going at a safe speed when it turned green. Of course that was in the days when there was significantly less traffic than today!
I always liked the idea of coasting. If you read yesterday’s blog about waiting you may think that coasting is the same as waiting — but it isn’t. Peg will often ask what I’m doing (if I happen to be sitting next to her and I appear idle) — and my most common answer is: “I’m coasting.” My brain is going but the thoughts are a mile-a-minute and they aren’t about anything in particular.
This juxtaposition of “Things” and “Breathing” might be more real than we think. In a material world we are taught to “fill” our lives. The implication is typically to fill it with things but it’s equally acceptable to fill our life with experiences, or people, or … well, anything you want. Always though the culture would have you think you have failed if your life isn’t “full” of something.
Circumstances are such that for the last two weeks I’ve had one particular memory in the back of my mind and it seems to haunt my waking hours. Our church was largely attended by Poles, and Czechs with a few Germans thrown in for good measure. The adults were almost all either immigrants or the children of immigrants. My generation — we were all kids at first — were the first generation born since the congregation was formed.
We hosted assemblies that were attended by friends from about a 400 mile radius and there was teaching and worship and a lot of glad-handing to be had. The memory stuck in my mind is of me sitting with a dear old Czech lady who’s face was all wrinkles. We were in the back of the sanctuary, she in a large oversized wooden chair with an ornately carved back and me in a Bent Wood chair. I have no idea how we had gotten started on this conversation but for some reason she started telling me — a 20 something young lad about her life before coming to this country. She was well into her 80’s. She struggled with her English, wanting to tell me her story; she was quite intent on making sure I heard it. Maybe she was just happy to have someone show an interest? I don’t know.
What sticks in my head are those wrinkles and her smile. I have often thought to myself that the most beautiful faces in the world are old people with wrinkled faces who smile. There is a depth there that youth and beauty cannot match. And I don’t say that now as I approach age 70 — it’s an outlook on life I’ve head since my 30’s. You can’t fake experience. You can’t fake life. Pretenders can get away with their imitations but eventually the real and the fraud are revealed.
As I listened to her story I was struck by the absolute lack of all the things that I — as a 20-something year old guy — thought were necessary to life. She’d grown up poor — not just poor, but dirt poor. The trip to America was tough; getting started in this country had been tough; the Depression had been brutal but she’d survived; and she’d worked hard for very little reward all her life — and yet joy shone on her face and in her manner with everyone. She was kind but quiet; I had a hard time that day realizing that she was even spending all this time to tell me her story. And yet she was. She was ‘investing’ herself in me.
When we downsized from our house in Milwaukee we went from a residence with 6500 sq ft (remember that was home and office) down to the size of our first RV — 230 sq ft. Do the math — we reduced our footprint on earth by 97%! That was a whopper. And more importantly, we didn’t really miss the stuff we got rid of.
So now, our house here in S. Texas is larger but we haven’t added a lot more stuff. We don’t have a lot of furniture. Most of it came with the house and will sell with the house when we leave. We brought one car full of non-furniture from Milwaukee and since then we have gotten rid of some of what we brought with us, and we will be taking a few things back to Milwaukee to save for the inevitable time when we leave Texas. We don’t need all that stuff & junk that we had before.
But time to sit and talk with our neighbors, time to write, time to enjoy being married to the same person for, now, going on our 49th year — these are all things that are just as good as breathing. We didn’t have to make the trip from the Old Country to America. And we grew up in a time of unparalleled prosperity in the world. Nevertheless, I’m here to agree, you don’t need all that stuff. And now that we are settled in and not having to move the RV every few weeks I may even do more breathing! 😀🙃😀