An embarrassment of riches

I’ve always been a conservative. I won’t delve into what’s this means for me exactly, but as I’ve aged, I’ve become significantly more liberal. If you asked me today, I would say that I am becoming a moderate liberal. Why, you might wonder, am I talking about this in relation to a blog about my son’s life and death? The reason is simple. My son has opened my eyes to the world. Slowly, the blinders are falling away. One of the (perhaps surprising) gifts of his life and death was tremendous gratitude.

Today was a nice day. I worked a little in the garden. I took the girls to Lego Hour at the library. We went to Trader Joe’s and bought our grocery list for the week according to my meal plan. The girls enjoyed fresh fruit samples at Trader Joe’s, and I enjoyed a free coffee sample. After a simple, filling dinner with fresh vegetables from my aunt’s garden,    I went for a walk around the neighborhood.

As I was walking, I was filled with sudden gratitude. Despite the horror of living through the death of my only son, gratitude nearly knocked me off my feet today.

We have everything we need.

Stop for a moment and let that thought sink in. Let it truly sink it.

We have everything we need.

My children are clothed and fed. They have health care. They are able to attend school for as long as they desire, pursue whatever degree they want, whatever its utility in the real world. We live in a small, simple house. It is about 1400 square feet. 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. It is tidy and quiet and peaceful. We have almost a half acre of flat, wooded yard where the girls can play in safety. We live on a friendly cul-de-sac where they can safely ride their bikes and run across the street without looking first. Our cars run reliably, and we own them. I am healthy. My body feels good when I wake up in the morning. I can do physical tasks when I need to do them. Nothing aches. Nothing torments me (physically, anyway). The same is true for my little family.

I’ve believed for a long time that what I have is here because I somehow earned or deserved it – or someone who loves me earned or deserved it. I was raised with the conservative ideals that what my family has belongs to us. Socialism has always appalled me. Why should others get to take away my hard-earned wages? Why should my money support someone too lazy to work and on welfare?

But today, as I stood in my garden and took in the view around me, the view that included our modest but comfortable and safe house, my healthy, happy children, and every other abundance in my life, it struck me that much of it is the result of luck. Not all of it – no. I cannot ignore the giant contribution that my family has made to the way my life has turned out – but again, at the base of it…luck.

We are taught from early on that life is the pursuit of things. We are taught that we never have enough. We are bombarded with advertising that convinces us that we need granite countertops in our kitchen to truly be happy. We need white subway tile in our bathrooms, otherwise our house just looks dated. We need things to truly find happiness. Money and acquisition of nice cars, nice houses, toys, electronics…that will bring us happiness. Buy buy buy. You need more. And capitalism tells us that it is ours. We don’t have to share. We don’t need to share. It belongs to me. It’s all mine.

Meanwhile, our society becomes more and more fragmented. We are isolated in our houses, we are isolated in public while we stare at our smartphones instead of engaging each other. We work too much, we worry too much, we buy and want and consume things too much. The village is disintegrating, and it is much to our detriment. Everyone pursues their own agendas.

All of this is to say that I want to give it away. I want to open my hands and let go of the things that I don’t need. I want to give all those things to others that could use them but don’t have access. I want to give our money to others. When I go to bed every night, I want to think about what I did that very day to lend a hand to another struggling human.

We are all in this together. What is mine is only mine because of a particular set of circumstances. It could easily have been another way. I could be that person sitting on the side of the road with a sign reading “Hungry. Anything helps.” I could be that recovering drug addict mother. I could be the tired woman waiting in line for WIC to feed her family and suffering the judgment of all those around her. I could be dying from cancer, lying in a bed somewhere, hoping that the end is coming soon. I could be sleeping in a bed in the Middle East, fervently hoping that no IEDs explode nearby, killing my entire family.

But I’m not. I’m here, in the mountains of Western North Carolina, in a small, comfortable house that I love, with the family that I love, with vegetables growing in my front yard.

Of course, I must feed and cloth my children first. It’s my responsibility as their mother. But beyond the basic necessities, we really don’t need much in this world to be happy and fulfilled.

So, I’ll say to you this: Open your hands and let your riches go. Give them to others so that they can have these things too – feelings of stability, safety, warmth, gratitude. Give it away. And open your heart to gratitude. No matter how dark the day, no matter how great the sadness, remember what you have and be thankful for it. None of us can take it with us. And nothing lasts forever.

5 thoughts on “An embarrassment of riches

  1. Beautiful words, as always. And a wonderful tribute to the gifts in your life, including the gratitude you learned through the tragic death of dear James. For some reason, this song popped into my head while reading your blog today:

    Peace, fellow DVM mom! Keep on giving.


  2. So much of what you do is taking the hurt, pain, and joy in your life and transforming it into these beautiful words and actions so that the world is a better place. I know without a doubt that I am a better parent because of you. Thank you.


  3. This! This this this! : “it struck me that much of it is the result of luck. Not all of it – no. I cannot ignore the giant contribution that my family has made to the way my life has turned out – but again, at the base of it…luck.”

    It’s so wonderful to hear you say these things. Yes, it is our responsibility to take advantage of the opportunities presented to us and to take care of our families and friends as best we can. But when we start to understand that most of the world (and our nation) is not offered these opportunities to begin with, we see that the starting line isn’t the same for everyone; we see that a sudden, unexpected illness can take it all, that we might need help, not out of any fault of our own but because we were dealt a terrible hand; we see that we are where we are and have what we have mostly because of good fortune with a little bit of good hard work thrown in. We’re in it together. There’s really no other way.

    I look forward to having a re-do of the conversation we had way back when in Hawaii. I bet our ideas are much closer on the continuum than they used to be.


  4. I came across your blog, sitting here trying to forget the crazy heat we are having on the central coast of California. My family is conservative, I’m liberal. You so well put into words the difference in approaches to life between the two that I didn’t fully understand before. It helps me better understand my family.

    I cannot imagine the pain of losing a son. Thank you for sharing what you have learned.


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