Our Disposable Lives

Our possessions — we give them a monetary value; we defend them with guns, security alarms, insurance; we flaunt them to represent our identity, our status, our personal worth.

Our stuff takes up important physical space and mental energy in our daily lives.

But how much does all that stuff contribute to our well-being?

Take blankets. A man has a quilt from Wal-Mart on his bed. It keeps him warm. That is, until he’s washed it three or four times and the inferior stitching starts to unravel. He throws it out, or maybe donates it. He buys another one. Why not? They are cheap. Warmth is easy to come by at big-box prices.

Another man has a quilt his grandmother made him as a graduation present. At the time he wished she’d given him money so he could’ve bought buy a case of beer. But, after only a brief exposure to the often cold, somtimes frightening adult world, he came to realize how valuable this homemade article is — priceless, really. However much it warms his body, the steady flame it feeds in his heart cannot be bought. He even learned a simple sewing stitch so he could mend a tear that resulted from the past twenty years of constant use.

I anticipate accusations of over-sentimentality. But imagine a household in, say, pioneer America. Little house on the prairie. Everything in the house, including the house itself, was either handed down, made by your immediate family, or made by someone you know. Worst case scenario, it originated form someone that someone in the community used to know and can give you some gossip about. Imagine the self-confidence you would be infused with to sit with your family every evening at the dinner table you made. Imagine the strength you might derive from using the hammer your father had used to do the work necessary to survive. Imagine the feeling of security to sit in the same chair and read the same book as your grandmother.

Now we’ve achieved an access to goods and a freedom from the past that is an amazing achievement. I am in no way arguing against the development of options. Having choices allows us to be more fully human as we excercise our free will and assume responsibility for our lives.

But what affect does it have to choose to surround ourselves with disposable goods, made by…? underpaid workers? people who hate their jobs because they are ill with no healthcare? parents forced into state assistance job programs who hate having to leave their children in daycare every morning? At the very least, by people who couldn’t care less if you derive any satisfaction from the piece of junk. I’m not dissing the factory worker; who in the world could muster up enough dedication to be concerned with identical products flying out of a machine headed for who knows where?

Is it too flaky of an idea to think that things can be infused by a bad vibe? Which would mean, contrarywise, that all grandma’s loving thoughts as she made the quilt don’t count for jack, and that I don’t buy.

On the other side of the coin, what does it mean when we lose our tradition of craftsmanship, carpentry, cooking, sewing, gardening, when we decide it is no longer worth making the time or learning the skill to create things for each other? They can buy one cheap at the store, so I’ll just play another game of computer solitaire.

With our new-found freedom to choose many aspects of our lives, what would it mean to slowly, mindfully replace many of the disposable things we own with things that mean something, that feed our hearts in some way, that give us the strength and warmth that often seem lacking in our contemporary world? What would it mean to learn, improve and practice a craft so that we can contribute something well-made, blessed with good intentions, to someone currently using a disposable piece of crap?

My mother just sent me a tablecloth she crocheted over the past few months. It is stunning not only for its detail and the obvious skill of the woman who crafted it, but because someone would spend that kind of time making something for me. How much more special will the occasion be when her tablecloth lies under our supper, reminding us that, even if she lives on the other side of the continent, her love is always with us.

If this is just my over-sentimental imagination, then lucky me that I’ve got one.

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Filed under Life, society

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