Needful Things

In a conversation over several glasses of red, back when both wine and wisdom were very new to me, I told a friend that if we all looked after our own families, there would be no need for charity.  As though an individual's poverty were a function of a tight-fisted relative spending money on pretty sparkly things while her loved-ones went hungry.  I didn't understand the political helplessness associated with the poverty mentality.  To be honest, I didn't understand much.  And having never experienced anything resembling wealth, the sense of entitlement that comes with working and earning was somewhere beyond me.  I had no concept of I deserve this.  Or:  I worked for it, it's mine.

At the Food Bank some months later, I explained my situation to the gentle man behind the intake desk:  "Yes, I have a job.  No, I'm not using drugs.  There are just so many people in my apartment...."

He nodded kindly and gave me a large bag of groceries.  He shook my hand and said, "Look after yourself."

Eventually, I learned how.

My household still loves to give.  We donate infant furniture and gear to the Terra centre for teen parents as the crew grows out of stuff.  We do a twice-yearly purge of clothes, toys and household goods for GoodWill.  When I can run, my race fees to go charity and I remain overwhelmed by friends' and family support of my Run for the Cure.  We love to give.

But we're also in a position, finally, where family vacations to tropical places are legitimate options for us.  Where I can pursue a Master's degree without having to observe my first-year undergrad diet of rice and Campbell's soup.  (Sometimes I had ramen noodles and frozen vegetables, too, as a special treat.)  Where if I don't want to cook once in awhile, I can order in whatever I want.  Where I can buy my kids organic food, feed them fresh vegetables year round, put them in whatever camps or sports their desire and our time permits.  And so on.

Not wealthy by any means, but living simply and comfortably, we earned this.  After years of not-quite-enough, we earned this.  I worked for it, it's mine.  And so the cash donations I once gave freely are more restricted, now.  Gifts of money once palmed off with a smile and a hug feel more like obligation than generosity, now.  I calculate outgoing funds against places I want to take my kids and tally up the time I'll need to earn it back.   I deserve this.  It's mine.

What's WRONG with me?

Chatting with another mum about the build-up toward Christmas, two-hour line-ups for Black Friday sales at Toys R Us, and how she and her family decided to just step out of all that a few years ago....  It made me think of a time when Christmas cost $200 or less, when the production was less important than the time together, when stockings more closely resembled socks than sacks, and one new toy was enough.

I thought my current lifestyle was pretty minimalistic.  I thought I was somehow above consumption for its own sake, voting with my dollars for meaningful things.  Not needful things.

Now I'm not so sure.

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