Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Dance in Abundance

I drove past one of those plastic individually lettered signs the other day that read LA BON DANCE. My French is not entirely perfect but this didn’t seem exactly right to me. La Bonne Danse? The Good Dance? It wasn’t until later that I realized the letters had been shifted, an apostrophe missing. L’abondance. Abundance.

The world I live in is one of abundance. There is an abundance of food, space, light, laughter, love, warm clothing, invitations, connection, four-legged furry ones, toys and tools, entertainment and distraction… We long for nothing. In fact we have to beg people not to give us physical things. When we need (or even want) something, we buy it. Gift giving has become a stress or a circus amongst my people to try to find that thing that the person didn’t realize they needed, but could use oh so badly. Guess what? It doesn’t exist.

It seems trendy this year to give to charity instead of buying physical presents for one another. Or to push for homemade, local or handmade products. Good on y’all. This is right up my alley.

But the other day I went browsing the toy aisle of a Big Box Store and I literally almost had a seizure from the amount of stimulation. The packaging, the floor to ceiling shelving filled with boxes, even paint on the floor of the aisles with words like Barbie or Transformers marking entire aisles of themed toys. I had to buy a birthday gift for a party my daughter was attending. Unfortunately, I still feel really badly every time I make someone’s kid open a gift that clearly has been used by someone before – and often not even someone I know. I also am not a craftswomen – my strengths lie with food. When I give a second hand thing I feel like I’ve gypped that kid out of a shiny new, big, plastic doo-dad. Every time. But I keep doing it. Because its what I believe is the right thing to do.

In the end I brought 80% used stuff in our little recycled baby shower gift bag (I’m a girl on a mission to re-use…). The receiver of the gift was so pleased with the second-hand toy that she proceeded to play with it right away in the midst of the gift opening. Probably because there was no packaging to meddle with. Anyway – she wasn’t upset. Only I was the one concerned about the gift.

I heard on the radio the other day that we are living in a world where people expect to be able to spend more than they earn. On first glance, it isn’t anything we haven’t heard before. But look again. We EXPECT to SPEND more than we earn. In other words, the expectation is on spending – not on earning. In my head, I wonder if we have come to believe we shouldn’t have to work hard for our money. We might even settle for earning less. Yet there are also those that work very hard, and still earn less. Often regardless, the spending and acquiring doesn’t change. What we feel we deserve does not shift in us consumer-type people.

I’m not talking about children with empty bellies and people without proper winter clothing. I’m talking about the you and I who buy, buy, buy mountains o’ things whether we’ve got the cash to pay for it or not. This happens whether the thing is actually needed - we just feel we have a right to anything we want. Well I do anyway.

Don’t think I I believe that buying second-hand stuff lets me off the hook entirely. I still buy too much stuff. I just managed to find a way to cheat the ultimate price tag on it. But instead of a $50 snowsuit for my kids, I buy five $10 ones (though trust me, on a farm this is a very good idea). All the same, there is too much stuff, too much being amassed.

I can’t get that sign out of my head. The Good Dance. Having an abundance of anything is a privilege, nobody would argue this. What we call abundance is a matter of perspective, though I suspect we’d all know it when we saw it. But that doesn’t mean we know how to manage it. With this dance idea, I have come to realize that having abundance is not enough in and of itself. With abundance, we must feel gratitude. We must understand where we are relative to others. We must appreciate what we have.

And most importantly, I feel it might be very important that we have WORKED for it.

Today, we live in a world where we can expect to get something for nothing. The windfalls. The infomercials on how to get rich quick. The lotteries. The families broken over matters of estate. We want lots of stuff and we want to do as little as possible to get it.

During this season of giving, I wish that we could all learn the good dance required around abundance. Where there is health, we take a moment to be grateful (because that is really the only moment you can be certain of). Where tummies are filled, we understand the energy that has gone into the food on our plates. Where our skin or house is kept warm, we can track the materials back to their original source.

That we have a look into the bigger picture. The delicate balance. The Very Good Dance that is required as we hold so very much in our hands.

I have nothing against stuff. Especially stuff that can be used. But I do care when someone else has to pay for the stuff we have acquired, either environmentally or financially or with the basic human rights to a fair wage.

The best things in my life were not easy to attain. I had to work for them. I had to spend a lot of energy on figuring out what I wanted and then more energy on finding them. I earned them. Above all, abundance like every dance requires someone to lead. Preferably this someone will be you. Not a marketing firm, The Jones’ or a whim of emptiness that feigns satisfaction with a purchase.

Last but not least, remember that the best things to feel abundant for don’t necessarily fit on the shelf of a store. And then dance your little heart out.

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