Among other things, I did a lot of work yesterday. I’ve been plodding away at the same project I mentioned I started about six months ago. It’s yet to bear fruit. I have reserved confidence that it still may. And if it does, the fog will lift and I’ll think again once more.
During an otherwise non-eventful afternoon, my phone rang. It was a friend of mine. For about a week now, we’ve been playing phone tag. I’ll call him when I jump in my car, about to embark on a longer than average drive and usually he’ll do the same. The tragic part of our relationship is, rarely do we jump in our cars simultaneously. If he’s not in his car, he may not answer. If I’m not in mine, I usually won’t. But more often than not, he’ll answer his phone when I call. I wish it were true the other way around. I have an overwhelming sense of guilt every time I sit at my desk listening to my unanswered phone continue to ring. And ring and ring.
By this time, I was standing outside our front door, looking down a neighboring road that’s filled with colorfully painted houses topped by tile roofs. It was raining and I had to keep myself tucked into the small nook that sheltered our welcome mat.
“Where the heck have you been? You’re MIA.”
I’m only assuming he was sitting at the desk in his dining room, leaning back in that faux leather chair of his, wondering what he was going to eat for dinner.
“Oh I’m here and there. Why? What’s up?”
And he continued to tell me about his life. It seems as though every time we speak, he has a new story of what’s going on. To say the least, it’s entertaining. I really don’t mind talking to him either because we’ve been friends forever and I’ve gotten rather good at reading between the lines. In general, I know when he’s got a problem before he does, so I sit and wait for him to realize what he’s done and for him to swallow his pride and call me to tell me about it.
Now, I don’t want to give away the true essence of what my friend and I discussed during our conversation. That was private. But what’s interesting about the whole thing is that he’s probably the fifth person to call me recently and eventually complain about the same sentiment. He’s got an odd feeling that something in the world is off kilter. Now, if you think I do a lot of analysis of the world on this blog, you should hear my friend rant. It wouldn’t be out of line for me to suggest that he’s the one I get it all from. He calls me, starts into a tirade, takes a deep breath and waits for me to chime in and explain it all. It’s quite the yin and yang relationship. You’ve really got to see it in action. You’ll be thinking of it for weeks.
I must have been wound up from a few conversations Laura and I have been having lately. Either that, or I was over the whole “poor me” syndrome that’s apparently taken us by storm. What I do know is that I cut my friend off mid sentence and instead of offering soothing and encouraging words of wisdom, I called him “useless.” He didn’t know what I meant. But you know me – I was only too happy to help him understand.
“How am I useless? What do you mean by that?”
I think he was a bit agitated by my suggestion that the world wouldn’t necessarily miss him, or any of us for that matter, if we weren’t here. But again, I felt it was my responsibility to help him get the gist of what I was saying.
“Let me ask you something. In the past month, what have you been up to?”
“Oh I don’t know. I’ve been mostly going out to dinner and playing on the internet.”
“Really? How do you feel about that?”
“I didn’t think so.”
“Are you happy?”
“How long can you go on like this?”
“I hope not much longer.”
“How long have you been like this? You know – useless?”
“As long as I can remember.”
It’s so bad, it makes me chuckle. Chuckle because I know that my friend’s life is just a microcosm of our society at large. And it’s a microcosm that so many of us are in denial about and one that we continuously plow through, under, over and around, day after day.
I felt as though I had to start at the beginning with my friend because calling him useless right off the bat probably wasn’t fair. After all, I had been revved up for over a week from the conversations I mentioned above. He was simply wallowing like he normally does. He wasn’t ready for such an insult.
“Let me ask you something. In December of last year, how much were your household and other normal bills?”
“I don’t know. Probably a couple of hundred bucks.”
“What did you pay for?”
“Umm, natural gas for my little fireplace, oil for the boiler, my car payment, groceries, fuel, going out and some other stuff. Why?”
“How did you get the natural gas?”
“I’m not sure. Some company came around and dug up the roads to put pipes in. After that, I got a letter in the mail and they offered me the gas at a pretty decent price. I set up an account. It’s been awesome.”
“Well, I’ve been getting that for years. A local company delivers it. That and the fireplace keep me nice and snug.”
“Your car payment?”
“Dude, why are you asking me such stupid questions? I got the car by going down to the lot and picking one out. Now I have to pay for it.”
“Okay, last thing. What about the groceries? Where did you get them?”
“At the grocery store. Which, by the way, is becoming way too expensive. They’re ripping me off!”
“Like I said earlier, you’re useless. That’s why you’re complaining about not being happy.”
“Stop insulting me. I didn’t call you for this.”
“I know. You called me because you wanted me to coddle you. You weren’t ready for someone to bring up the fact that you do absolutely nothing to provide for yourself. If someone pulled the carpet out from beneath your feet, you’d be left standing there naked. Why don’t you find heat from fire, transportation from your legs and food from a garden? Perhaps then you’d find some self worth and happiness to boot.”
“Well, you don’t do any of those things you just said I should do. What makes you so special?”
“At least I know why I’m not happy. You have no idea.”
There was a long pause. I understand why too, because people today aren’t ready to hear that they have absolutely no control over their lives. They think that by working for money and then finding creative ways to spend that money, they’re achieving something. It’s exactly the problem my friend has. He’s been led to believe that his work actually means something. What he does for a living. His industry. That it all has a profound impact on the goings on of the world. That it’s not all fluff. That just because it’s popular, it’s necessary.
“I couldn’t possibly do the things you mentioned. I don’t know how to.”
“I understand that, but people 100 years ago had plenty of knowledge how to do those things. That’s why I said you’ve been rendered useless. You’ve been willingly marginalized. And trust me, you’ve gotten plenty used to it because I’m sure that if you had the money, you’d hire someone to clean your house and lift the food from your plate to your mouth.”
For the past few weeks, I’ve been busy linking sentiment with reality. I’ve been wondering how people in one part of the world are, in general, happy people and how people in another part of the world are, in general, unhappy people. It’s striking what I’ve come up with.
I’ve found that people who find themselves useful in their day to day dealings are typically satisfied. And what I mean by “useful” is sort of like how a carpenter finds himself useful. If he needs shelter, he builds it. Or how a farmer finds himself useful. If he needs food, he grows it. If the carpenter fails to build a house and if the farmer fails to grow food, he sleeps outside and he starves, respectively. Someone who is handed shelter and food and who does nothing to earn what he’s handed, is useless and pays the price for being so. Most likely a mental price.
It’s sort of like a spoiled child. We’ve all seen them. Unknowing parents hand these children everything they need, as well as some things they don’t. In return, the child conjures up more things they think they need (or downright want) and if they don’t receive them immediately, they throw a tantrum. You know as well as I know, a spoiled child is in no way happier than a modest one. A modest one is taught to earn and appreciate while a spoiled one is taught to take and complain. My friend is a spoiled child. Month after month, he’s handed every single thing he needs in life and all he has to show for it is bouts of unhappiness. Well, perhaps if he looked inside himself and found ways to make himself more useful and found ways to take control of his life, he’d be more happy.
Not so long ago, I wrote a post describing how I used to work while cutting down trees. Simply put, I would start a job at seven in the morning, work a good day and somewhere around seven at night, I’d find myself in the shower washing off for a nice dinner. During those days, I felt good. I felt useful. I attached my usefulness with my value as a human being. During those days, I felt that I was working hard at satisfying a genuine need, and for that satisfaction, I was rewarded. Not only monetarily, but mentally as well. I was using my arms and my legs, my skills and my strength – everything that had brought me to the point of being able to take care of something I deemed important. I stood out from the crowd as I did this because I knew that what I did wasn’t easy. Not everyone attempted to do what I did and as a matter of fact, a vast majority felt pathetically ill-equipped to even think about it. I was special and dare I say, in some circles, I was important.
I’ve always thought that the people who are happiest among us are those who provide the basic essentials for life as we know it. And beyond that, I think that the small group of people who provide those essentials for themselves, are even happier. I’m not talking about frivolous technology, gadgets and pet puppies. I’m talking about food, shelter and heat. I’m talking about community and social structure. The basics are what the mind responds to, as opposed to an unnecessary fabrication.
It’s funny, because for far too long, I’ve been watching people (myself included) mope around while trying to find things to satisfy themselves in their short lives on earth. We can’t seem to put our fingers on what exactly we’re missing here, but we all seem to know that something’s amiss. A few of us choose to deal with it by developing hobbies and a few of us deal with it by simply keeping busy. Others deal with it by abusing various things. Something’s for sure though – each and every day we continue down the path we’re on, our personal environment is bound to suffer. Each and every day we’re handed something to make life “easier,” we’re actually doing damage…
…each and every day I call my sister’s cell phone to speak directly to her, my brother-in-law doesn’t have a chance to answer the house phone, creating another day we don’t hear each other’s voices. Each and every day I read a book on a tablet or smart phone is another day I don’t visit a used book store and smell the scent of dust and aging pages. Each and every day we watch a movie online and fall asleep half way through is another day we don’t feel the excitement of going out to a movie theater, holding hands and giving each other a long kiss at the end of our date. Each and every day I purchase and eat pre-packaged food is another day I don’t stop to consider where the food came from, who grew it and whether or not it’s good for me. Each and every day I adjust a thermostat is another day I don’t go down to a local swimming hole to get cool or head outside to cut firewood to stay warm. Each and every day we succumb to the “solutions” people have created for us, we suck the romance out of our lives and steal and very vibrance we once had. The vibrance that we remember all too well and the vibrance we want back so so badly.
It’s no wonder my friend called me to complain. He had no idea what he was doing. He was simply sitting in a house that was built for him on a telephone that was created for him in a chair that was handed to him in front of a computer that was sold to him breathing air that just happened to be here the day he was born.