Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 629 – Day 634)
Today I am reflecting on how much we consume and the ways in which we have become such a disposable society. I am fortunate that my parents were the first generation to leave the farm. And more fortunately, when I was growing up and would spend part of the summer with my Russian grandmother, I got exposed to the life of a working farm.
Both grandmothers had gardens. My dad had 13 siblings and so his mother grew food as a bit of a necessity. My mother’s mother grew food because it was their way of life. The doukhobors live by the adage: ‘toil and peaceful life’ and hospitality is its expression.
As vegetarians, my grandmother kept a cow for milk, butter and cheese – yes, she made her own. And she kept chickens for eggs. But the majority of the food came from the garden. Beans, peas, carrots, beets, rhubarb, potatoes, radishes, cabbage, lettuce, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and corn. All that filled our soups and our perogies came from the garden. And every day, my grandmother made her own bread. It was delicious, it was fresh and it was organic. And perhaps most importantly, it was tended and grown with love.
My grandmother knew how to make use of every single thing. Nothing was wasted and everything had a second life. I don’t remember having many canned foods, if any, in her house. Well, that is, no store bought canned foods because of course my grandmother canned her own vegetables, fruits, jams and pickles. But any biscuits tins or chocolate boxes were saved and reused for storage. She had the same set of dishes her entire life, and pots and pans were probably passed down from her mother. I have my mother’s cast iron frying pan and I think it was probably one of my grandmother’s, originally. Nothing went to waste. Food scraps were composted, even back then.
I grew up in suburbia and as an adult, went to live in big urban centres. I never learned to farm, although I did learn to harvest. What I did learn from both my grandmother and my mother was how to reuse and not to waste. Every glass jar of spaghetti sauce or pickles becomes a container for something or a canister to hold lentils or sugar, until it is finally recycled. And while I try to avoid plastic, any plastic box that holds vegetables becomes a drawer divider or goes to the community garden for seedlings until it is downcycled. I try, as much as possible, not to create waste for landfill.
This attitude stretches out to using everything until it is worn out. I drove my first car for 14 years and then passed it on. My second car was “second hand” and I sold it on, and then the new owner sold it on, yet again. I know the 4th owner. I still see that car running strong. Now, I am fortunate not to need to own a car because I live in a city with excellent public transportation. I prefer not to own a car.
As a child, I learned not to fuss too much over things. I wore the same outfit for what felt like a decade, as a child, because my mother would sew the same pattern, in the same fabric, for all three of her daughters, who were born five years apart. As I grew, I got the next size up…twice. Even if I had been a girl inclined to shop for fashion, it would have been drummed out of me by having to wear the same clothes for years.
As an adult, I wear my clothes to death. I have a polar fleece hoody that I bought in 1998. It has been around the world with me, and I still continue to wear it. When it has holes or is no longer wearable, I will give it to North Face for reuse in new textiles. Most of my clothes are like this. What was once a work outfit becomes a pub outfit and later, an “at home”, laundry day outfit and it is either finally given to charity or to textile recycling. Had I learned to sew, I might be able to make a rug, or washcloths out of my clothes, like my mother and my grandmother did.
My sister tells me that I should throw out old clothes so I can always look my best. You never know where you’ll “meet someone” and you want to be looking your best, she would say. Well, maybe she has a point. I am, after all, still single. But let’s face it. If I am to meet a partner, I want someone who is also as committed as I am to reducing waste and opting out of the manic consumption of our modern world. I want to meet someone who, like me, would rather gaffer tape his computer screen than buy a new laptop full of conflict minerals. I’m not poor. I can buy new things. I simply choose not to.
And when I do get ‘new’ things, there is great satisfaction in having things that others have either gifted me or that they have passed on to me. Right now, I live in a place that is smaller than a studio. I do this by choice. I have enough stuff for me, and a guest. I used to live in a 2 bedroom flat and it was full of stuff that I didn’t need. When I realised that I spent 95 percent of my time in one room, I knew I didn’t need so much space.
In New York, I lived in less than 300 square feet, the entire time I lived there. I had what I needed. I was never happier. Small space living means that life outside of my home is a lot more active and social and my home becomes a space of retreat.
Where I live now is furnished but in New York, I bought second hand furniture from Housing Works (a charity that was founded to support those living with AIDS) and everything nested. When I left New York City, I gave it all away – most of it back to Housing Works for yet another life and some of it to friends. And in London, where the population is even more transient, I have given away most of my things and what I still have are pieces from friends who left town. I don’t think any of my pots, pans, dishes, or shelves are things that I bought from a high street.
And let me tell you, I have found all of our daily practices can be done simply in the use of my things, every day. When I sit down to eat my breakfast, I am grateful for the kettle that P- gave me, which his sensei could not use. And I am grateful for the bowls which Alicia and Ste passed on to me when they left London. I have my coffee and I think about Lk, and I am grateful that he left me his oversized tea cup and saucer when he left for Oxford and as I add my sugar, I use the spoons that we had in our flat at LSE in 2003 and I think of Matt, Dev, Th, Pl, Dar, and Z. I have my morning shower and I think of Steph and Tony whose towels I received when they returned to the States, and when I sit down to write, I think of my sister and her children who gave me my iPad mini. I am grateful for all the gifts of the things that fill my life. And, it is a joy to be reminded of these people that I love and who are not with me. The thing that nobody ever talks about, when they talk about using hand me downs or second hand items is the circle of Oneness that is created. When I pass that cup on to someone else, I am delighted to think that they might think of me, a little, too. In old things, there is continuity.
It is said that everything contains consciousness. And in that cup, with the tea and the sugar and the milk, is a dollop of each of our energies, forever co-mingled and creating an even more beautiful object. It is the reason we hold on to items from those departed from us. It is why we treasure certain silly things. My current treasure is a step ladder. I don’t use it much in my small space. I think I have used it once. But I hold on to it because it is both useful and it was given to me by the second love of my life to take care of me when he was not with me. He didn’t want me climbing on the chair to reach the top cupboard anymore, after I took a spill. And so he bought me the most sturdy, heavy duty stepladder he could find as a symbol of his care and protection. It is a service both to reuse things and to remember from where they came, to care gently for, and to pass on each of these objects for a second or third life.
So where is the meaning in all this? Am I fetishing objects and actually revealing myself to be extremely materialistic in the love of my things? Well now, I hope that isn’t what you will take away. This week, I passed on a printer and some shelf organisers to the Nomadic Community Gardens. As I did, I thought of Sara, who passed down the printer to me and Steph and Tony who passed down those shelf organisers. I not only passed on their goods, but I passed on both their and my energy to the next owners. We are a Nomadic Community and our good vibes will be passed to the next owner.
There is a continuity in making use of old things. They may not be the most shiny or new, but they are beautiful because they each are the container of a conscious story of Oneness.
For what are you grateful, today?