Once again, it is the season I look forward to each year at this time…my sabbatical journey to the most wonderful place on earth, the sugary sand beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama. Normally this is a trip I take alone, a time to regroup and refresh, make plans for business and personal life and in general just get away from it all. But this year, my mom is along for the ride and we are 4 days into the trip and having a great time doing a lot of nothing. And each of us is pretty darned happy with that aspect. It has been a difficult year for both of us. My normally very healthy Dad was stricken with a mysterious condition in April of 2012, and the ensuing year was full of doctors’ visits, medications, bouts with a body that is not functioning as it should, and no real answers about much of anything. My Dad is a strapping 6 foot tall big guy, and although he has lost a lot of weight through this, he still is a lot to handle for my petite 5 ft 2 Mom. But she has managed, they have grown a lot through the experience, and he is better although still not diagnosed to our liking.
I, on the other hand, have had a very interesting and involved year as well. This time last year I drove to the beach fresh from a divorce, and was also pretty unsure of some business decisions that were pending. I had started a new business in addition to my cleaning company, and the estate business was overtaking the cleaning company profits almost daily, but not to the level yet of paying all the bills, so I was still struggling with some decisions of where to go from that point professionally. It was a time of uncertainty, remorse in some ways, and just a general feeling of helplessness in many areas. But like Mom, I girded my loins, dug in and decided that my life could either turn down a sad path and one filled with anxiety or trepidation each day, or I could accept the unknowns as part of the journey and just move forward with as much strength as I could muster. This plan has worked pretty well and with mostly success for both of us. I also think we have both come to somewhat the same conclusion in at least one area. Neither of us needs what we thought we did this time last year, and our wants have changed to fit our circumstances and current lifestyles as well. And I think we are both the better because of it.
I wonder if there are multitudes of others like me…those wanting and needing so many things that ultimately we don’t have any use for and probably wouldn’t be happy attaining. I mull over what I may have thought I needed and wanted this time last year, and what I am willing to accept as best for me now and I marvel. The simple events and conversations at today’s sales kind of put me in that mindset, and as I sit writing I am reminded again of the complications of life that are usually brought on by the refusal of the simple things.
We headed out bright and early this morning and were eager to see how many new treasure troves we could find in this new stomping ground of thrift stores. We began with a few yard sales, an estate sale, and one interesting moving sale. The host couple were very beatnik, hippy-ish, but engaging and friendly as we pawed through their belongings. “Everything in the house is pretty much for sale, we are letting it all go and moving” said the young man. He stood there in flip flops, a tie-dyed shirt and jeans, and his pretty wife was attired in a flowing maxi skirt, tank top and barefoot, showing us this trinket or that bauble, informing about their online vintage goods store they had, their current job at LuLu’s the local hangout for beach goers, and the side detail that her hubby has a pilot’s license. The chit chat was light and fun, they were mild-mannered but smiling, but something told me there was a story here. I knew I was right when he volunteered to take our things to the car and the conversation continued on the way down the stairs and around the corner. “Yeah, we are selling it all and moving” he said once again and so I felt he was wanting me to ask “ And where are you moving?” so I obliged. He pointed out in the yard and said “There.” I turned and saw an old, not quite ancient RV sitting in the sand near the house. “Really? ” I said smiling, and he proceeded to tell Mom and me that they were simplifying things, moving into the RV and travelling and working wherever they ended up. The sale was to gain some travel money, lighten their load, and only involved them taking the most essential items…if they had a want along the way they would work for it and get it for the moment, anything they needed would be gained the same way. They were going to live a life of doing the next best thing, and just taking the next right step.
“What made you decide to do this, if you don’t mind me asking?” he hesitated only a second and said, with a bit of pride, “Well we realized we really didn’t need as much as others thought we did, or even we thought we did. We wanted to have an easier, quiet life. I told her all we really need is somewhere to sleep, something to eat, and a bit of company.” I realized then that this young man was describing what I have spent the last 53 years trying to gain, and have gone about it in mostly the wrong ways.
What do we really need when it comes right down to it? Not much I am thinking. We let TV, friends, family and that voice inside tell us we have to have the newest this and the brightest that to be happy. We have to have a great job, we have to know where our next sale is going to be made, or if the bills are going to be paid next week because we worked our rears off the right way this week. We want to know that our spouse is going to always be there for us, that our health is not going to tank and bring us down with some cruel and unrelenting disease. Our wants get so out of hand and blown out of proportion that we begin to confuse them with needs. And that’s where the trouble begins.
There are many times I go to a sale or thrift store and I come across a piece of furniture that looks ok enough but there is something not quite right about it. I can’t immediately put my finger on the maker or the era, and it is confusing to me to identify because there are so many indicators either missing from it or there are pieces and points that are there but shouldn’t be on that particular type piece. After careful inspection I see that the original patina is gone, the original paint is covered over with many years worth of finishes and latexes and it is nothing like it started out when the woodworker carved and joined the pieces lovingly in his shop many moons before.
It is the same with people. There comes a time when we must strip down the layers of lies in our own lives. If we do not, we become like that old piece of furniture that has so many loads of unnecessary paint from over the years on the surface that the piece itself has even changed shape and started to become unrecognizable. I don’t want to wake up and not recognize my own life. And to make sure that doesn’t happen, it is time to strip away the old wants and come face to face with my real needs, then begin rebuilding and refinishing that life into what it was meant to be in the first place.
Later as I sat on the balcony of my condo in the quietness of approaching evening, I watched a little boy playing and jumping from each abandoned slatted beach chair to the ground wielding an imaginary sword in his hand. He was solo, and he seemed pretty happy and content all alone in his world of make-believe. All around him the beach crawled with Labor Day visitors, other much louder, boisterous youngsters playing with some sophisticated boogie boards and beach paraphernalia. From the 12th floor, I could hear radios playing, and winced at the loud raucous laughter of beachgoers with a few too many umbrella drinks under their belts, and could view all kinds of frenetic activity all around this boy…and he still played his game, all alone, and smiling. And I suddenly wanted to be him. Or maybe I wanted to be in the RV with the young couple forging their new life. Either way, it was enticing and a “moment” for me.
I sat and thought a lot on the balcony this day and spent some time quietly reflecting back on all the transitions I have gone through in my life, and I realized that the things I learned today are the real secret to a truly happy life. Wants and needs can pretty much look the same on the surface and I will get dramatically confused if I pile on too much of either in life. It’s best to keep it simple, don’t worry HOW it is going to happen, or WHEN it will all make a turn…just find a place to sleep, something to eat, and a bit of company and my guess is I will be as happy as the little beach boy.
At the end of my musing, a small plane flew by over all the loud noisy beachgoers. Trailing out behind it was a billboard banner claiming “Best fried shrimp in the civilized world”. I looked down and saw the boy stop his jumping, look up at the plane and wave, while all around him others went right on with their noisy behavior. I waved too…and thought maybe I would like to try that shrimp, and maybe talk Mom into going too…it was, after all, high time for us both to get something to eat…