Wednesday, March 20, 2013

what it boils down to

Last night during Cubbies, I told the kids a little about my summer in the desert to help introduce our lesson. (I was teaching them about John the Baptist--who lived in the desert--it all connects.  I kind of wish we still used those sorts of names, "John the Baptist," "Richard the Lion-Hearted," "Edward the Great.")  When I was eighteen I spent a summer in Egypt working at the Lillian Trasher Orphanage.  For 3 months I lived out of a duffel bag, and reader, it changed my life.

I did my laundry by hand with a bar of soap, scrubbing brush and a bucket.  (Fortunately, clothes dry real fast when you're in the desert--like in about 15 minutes with full sun and zero humidity.)

I used shampoo, but no hair product (it was 1989, this was a MAJOR sacrifice for a girl who'd invested her hard-earned ice cream scooping earnings in a spiral perm and Sun-In for "natural blonde highlights") and no electricity, so no styling devices either.  When I returned to Wisconsin, the gal at Dorothy's Hi-Style who did my hair back then remarked on how healthy it was after a summer in the desert.  Today I have no curling iron or flatiron, but I do have hot rollers and a hair dryer that I use on occasion.  I never got another perm and after a couple years, quit coloring it, too.

I wore the same 5 outfits in rotation.  Jeans, t-shirt, sundress on Sunday, work boots, socks, undies.  What seemed necessary in my wardrobe suddenly felt frivolous when I stood next to orphans who owned one change of clothes and a pair of flip-flops. 

No hot water, showers were fast and fiercely frigid.

No cold water either.  Room temperature water that we'd boiled to avoid dysentery, and when we drank it, the residual silt scraped the back of our throats.  The only cold thing to drink was soda purchased from a guy on a bicycle.  Coca-Cola or some orange pop in tiny glass bottles.  Our love for each other was mutual--he made buckets of money off of us thirsty Americans (and Canadians), we got to wash the silt out of our throats.

I didn't have sunscreen, a bathrobe, a razor, nail polish, TV, phone, reading material, radio, video games or jewelry.  I wasn't fashionable.  I wasn't well-read that summer, hip to the latest celebrity gossip or wealthy.

But we had music when we sang.  We had laughter all the time, and some tears.  We played games we invented.  We had plenty to eat, even if our meals lacked variety.  We got daily exercise--mixing cement by hand with shovels and tearing down an old barn without machinery keeps a person fit and strong.  We had faith, punctuated by regular calls to worship echoing through the sky in lyrical wails, the Muslim song projected from the speakers mounted on the sides of mosques and they were everywhere.  In the desert you can see every star in the sky and in the silence you have lots of time to think, wish and dream.

In that summer of nothing, I had everything and I gained more than I'd have ever imagined. 

Lately I've been reflecting about what is necessary and what I can live without, and I remember that summer and know I can live with much less than I have.   What I believe I need and what I actually require are pretty different. 

Spill it, reader.  What could you live without?  I'm not talking about sacrificing what you don't have--most of us live without designer clothes and speed boats--what do you have right now that you could live without and be just fine?


26 comments:

  1. To tell the truth, that all sounds wonderful. I envy you the memory!

    Pearl

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  2. What a wonderful experience.

    I could live without some of my shoes and clothes tucked in the back of my closet waiting for me to lose some weight.

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  3. Great memory!
    www.rsrue.blogspot.com

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  4. I live a very basic life down to the very basic necessities. I could not do without the internet, because of the social interaction, and I could not do without my bike, because that's how I get the groceries. I could live without the TV, I suppose, because I only watch it for the news. And I could live without my mobile phone, because I hardly use it.

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  5. I could live without a whole bunch of stuff that clutters up my house. But I always say I am grateful for electricity and indoor plumbing, having heard my mother's oft-repeated stories of growing up on a farm without them.

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  6. Honestly, we try to live in a way where we don't have what we don't need. People are amazed I don't have a cell phone, that we don't have cable tv. Other than the no heat aspect, I didn't really even mind no electricity in that last snowstorm a few weeks ago. I rather like being unplugged.

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  7. When I don't use my computer or cell phone for a few days I wish I didn't have either.
    I could live without them for sure
    xoox
    SC

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  8. Hmmm . . . I could live without all of my daughter's and husband's stuff.

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  9. You are such an incredible woman. What a wonderful way to spend a summer. I could live without lots of my clothes, my gym membership, our second car, the dryer, half the dishes, glassware, and cookware in my kitchen, all my jewelry (wedding ring aside), the air conditioner, and I'm sure other things, too. We have more than we could ever need, and I try to be aware of that everyday.

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  10. What a wonderful experience to have at such a young age! If we did go by names like John the Baptist, what would your name be?

    I could live without just about everything in our house. Wouldn't want to, but could.

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  11. It is amazing to look back at those college/early adult years and realize how important they were in shaping who we would become. Great post :-)

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  12. Amazing experience!!!! I'm jealous! There's tons I can live without and I'm always giving things away to try to simplify! Wish my kids felt the same way! :)

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  13. What a great experience! I would say that our wake up call was moving 1600 miles away with only what could fit in a 16 ft construction trailer. (which is a lot, but basically nothing lol) There's still some boxes stashed at parents' houses, but you know what...we really haven't missed anything except for the basketball hoop

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  14. Thank you for this post. It was the perspective that I truly needed.

    I could live without a big chunk of my wardrobe and a great deal of the stuff cluttering my house.

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  15. I could live without...meat! Dairy and eggs! But that is not fair, I am already vegan ;) Why have I not looked here before? Vegan Mother Hubbard recommended you and I shall add you to my list!

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  16. When I started my blog, we lived in Washington, in an unfinished barn. We had no plumbing, no insulation, no windows, no stairs. I am sure there were a few other things missing as well. We lived like that for almost a year before we moved to Wisconsin. I would have lived like that for another year if I felt sure a good job opportunity would come along. It didn't so we left with pain in our hearts.

    I wouldn't recommend living without plumbing and insulation, especially in Wisconsin, but I had no trouble with it at then time. Well, most of the time. We made it work somehow. And I found out there really is very little I actually need.

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  17. There is a lot of STUFF that I know I could live without... I am surrounded by it and it smothers me (and most of it is mine). You've got me thinking this morning, no doubt about it!
    Your summer experience sounds incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding. There is huge value in mission trips for those who take the plunge.

    Your writing is eloquent, especially this sentence: "In that summer of nothing, I had everything and I gained more than I'd have ever imagined."

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  18. Great story.
    I could live without makeup and all my shoes except a pair of comfortable sandals.

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  19. What a great experience! I used Sun In too. It gave me orange highlights, LOL.

    Really, we could all live without just about anything except shelter, food, and family :-) All the rest is just convenience.

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  20. WOW. That is quite the question. I love some material things a lot. Like my computer, TV, hot shower,dishwasher. I could live without the microwave and maybe the dishwasher but wouldn't like it.I, definitely, could live without my hair dryer. I never used it much if at all, till one friend commented that my hair might have more lift if I did. I think she thought she was being helpful but it made me think about my "flat hairdo". Don't use it much now, just a quick blow dry, about a minute, to fluff it up a bit. So, that I could do without. Your question sure gives one something to think about. We are a spoiled society.

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  21. What an incredible experience. There is so much we could live without. We seem to collect 'stuff' and then our lives are ruled by the care of it. We've moved frequently throughout our life which keeps 'stuff' to a minimum but it is easy to collect. I'm ready to downsize our home therefore eliminating much of the storage space.

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  22. What an amazing experience. I think we'd all be better off with an experience like that.
    I've been think about this very thing lately. Living with less. Just less of everything. So much stuff, and really, none of it necessary.

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  23. I think it really all is built upon how you grew up (rich, poor, or in the middle) and then what you build your adult live around. And why. Years and years and YEARS later, I know I could go back to living "poor". The stuff I have collected, and gathered, and really, if I"m honest, thoroughly enjoy(ed) is all stuff I can do without. The maintanence, upkeep, replacement when it's done, of all the STUFF I have now, is really just work. When I don't have it, or don't replace it, it's one less thing to have to deal with.
    At 50 years on the planet, it took me way to long to figure this out.

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  24. Oh man this is a deep river. I imagine I could live without a lot!!!! I'm not sure I am ready to yet though!

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  25. I could live without TV. I want to hang on to my mascara :)

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  26. Half. I could live without half the things in my house. We'll be going to rural Vermont this summer with only what we can fit in a pickup truck (we do this every other year). This year I have to come home with only one child for three weeks in the middle. I'll be "missing" my girl child, both dogs, and my husband. I'm very much looking forward to purging during that time. I'm pretty certain DH and Miss Awesome won't even notice. Coming home will still feel like the land of milk and honey compared to our summer camp.

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Spill it, reader.