From the beginning of our relationship, Phillip and I agreed with Socrates’ belief that the unexamined life is not worth living. Accruing wealth has never been our goal. We chose careers that combined our perceived gifts and interests with an aim to contribute something of value to our society. We didn’t earn advanced degrees, again and again, to “make more money,” but to contribute deeply and effectively to the common good.
Teaching, and then, for me, chaplaincy, allowed us to pay bills, own a home, and manage a comfortable life, but not without foregoing material goods we’re told are “necessary” for modern life. We’ve never driven new or nearly-new cars; most of our clothes and a lot of our home decor have come from St. Vincent de Paul, rummage sales, and antique stores; we grow a lot of our food and support local farmers; we still haven’t made it to Europe; we don’t have satellite television, i-pods, smart phones, or state-of-the art anything.
I don’t put this forth as a morally superior lifestyle (although I do endorse a consciously encountered and morally-driven life); this is the life we have chosen, but also one I believe other people have chosen and may increasingly choose as well, contrary to life-as-depicted by our media. We all know people who love their careers and contentedly work away from home long hours to pursue them, but I have known more people who resent the long hours and overbooked calendars today’s employers demand.
To be fair, when Phillip and I learned we could not have the children we dearly wanted, we were also able to live without the financial worries of raising a family (although, over the years, we’ve invited many 4-legged companions into our lives, and their comfort, health and medical care can be rather pricey at times). So, we’ve always managed to “get by” financially, again, like most people in our country.
Our recent decision to halve our income so I could stay home to write, coupled with the current Depression (whatever the happy, false, “spin-name” for it might be) however, has made life a bit more dicey and precarious, especially since the remaining steady wage-earner in our family is a Wisconsin public-school teacher. Healthcare and pensions will only become increasingly conspicuous concerns as we age.
So, we sift through the repercussions and inherent sacrifices of this choice and monitor our purchasing and planning frequently. How can we cut our expenses a bit more and throw a few more dollars into savings? Will anybody appreciate my writing enough to pay for it? Should Phillip take another remodeling job this winter and how could I best help him complete it? What would indicate it’s time for me to return to working for a steady income? Should we downsize and sell Full Moon? If so, where should we move?
I have a feeling a lot of people are living with similar questions these days.
What we’ve learned, so far, is that living a “slow life” is challenging but possible for us, and deepens our experience of life and each other considerably, given our definition of “life’s meaning,” which is to consciously nurture and value our relationship with each other, family, friends, our 4-legged companions, and our land.
Certainly, the 4-leggeds have greater companionship and a better quality of life. Phillip now comes home to…well, a home, instead of another workplace where tasks have mounted during long workdays and work weeks spent earning income to pay for a lifestyle we never, really, experience. The shopping’s done, the house is clean (enough), the laundry’s finished, a welcoming meal has been prepared and the dogs are walked and sitting near me instead of in their kennels from 7 AM till one of us gets home at night. We can all relax, sit together, share our day’s stories, and enjoy our nighttime hours without tedious distractions and the interruptions of necessary chores.
The benefits for me are rich. I take daily walks on the trail, write, cook, breathe with the 4-leggeds, and do all of this in the silence my spirit needs to listen and create. I sit with the sunrise and watch the hawks hunt; life isn’t something that will happen some day; I’m “in it” now. I don’t mind housework; it facilitates my meditation and helps me work through writing blocks and tricky plots.
We’re edging along a tenuous and precarious tightrope, but the view is glorious.
Slow-living is not for everyone, but I can only emphasize that—even if available only for a time—its rewards are deeply healing and wonderful for the spirit. It makes me observe more critically our society’s mad consumerism, which creates ever-increasing demands on our time and the pace with which we move through it.
Life presents constant choices and those choices circle around and become the architecture of our life. I’m here to say it’s possible to pause, to say no, to retreat, to do with less, to cut back on hours given to accruing money and to give them back to yourself and those you love.
It’s possible to breathe with the sunrise instead of hurtling away from it, battling your way down a highway to a job that devours more of your spirit than it feeds.
See ya at St. Vinnie’s.