What are the best things in life? Are they free, or do they depend on money? How much do you have of those best things?
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Many of us were poor in our youth, at least cash-wise. I certainly lived on a shoestring when I was in college and grad school, and then as a self-employed artist. My happiness rose and fell, though, not with my checking account but with my relationship life – a combination of my family life, love life (hummingbird-like in its ups and downs), and especially my overall friendship circle.
Relationships and community are a prime basis for believing the best things in life are indeed free. Slum dwellers and mansion owners alike can fill their homes with loving people and laughter – or be socially isolated, watching TV night after night alone. Homeless folks and CEO’s are equally needy of a partner or friend who stands by them no matter what –and in the absence of that, feel quietly desperate, rootless and truly known by no one.
It’s not true, though, that relationships and community are free. To the contrary, they cost us through the nose.
- Time — I gave up some precious writing time this morning when my husband wanted to talk with me (about nothing in particular! Love you, Thor). It’s parents, though, who wrote the book on devoting tens of thousands of hours to loved ones. Parents of infants and young children amaze me, especially when they also work outside the home.
- Effort — for instance, nobody ever built intimacy with their loved one by watching TV, which pastime we might say is the height of effortlessness.
- Our selfishness — it directly blocks relationships. We have to climb out of our own narrow desires if we want people besides ourselves in our lives.
- Loss — if humans are involved, we will suffer losses. Repeatedly. I cried last Thursday afternoon upon learning a friend in Connecticut had died. Talking on the phone with the woman who notified me, it turned out our mothers had died last spring within a few days of each other. “It’s devastating to lose your mother,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if she was 90, and had had a full life well lived. It still hurts like hell.” “YES!” I said. We sign up for loss when we love — but tend to forget we did that. The larger community, and faith, can help sustain us when we have losses. What doesn’t work is to try to avoid losses. They’re woven into the fabric of the universe.
As a junior in high school in the late 70’s I once had an autumn day that was unusually chockfull of community. I spent the morning co-editing the school newspaper with other newstaff members, much of the afternoon with the tennis team playing a good, sweaty match against our cross-town rivals, and then practiced with the marching band in the evening (I played the trumpet). I carpooled home with friends, talking and laughing, feeling joyous, needed, connected.
Late that night in bed I experienced what I can only describe as infusions of joy tingling in my body. It was both mystical and visceral, and I understood it, then and now, to be an encounter with the Holy Spirit. A person from another religious tradition would naturally have different words for it. Moments of surprising grace like this are another best thing in life.
My current life, at 50? Running the trails at Mt. Tabor park has replaced the tennis team, and singing in church choirs has replaced the marching band. Tonight is a high point of my week: my pdx writers’ group at my friend Colleen’s house. It’s like being part of a tribe, to put heads together with fellow writers about the characters and stories we’re writing. It’s a best thing in my current life, as is my marriage to Thor, who happily makes me the highest priority in his life.
Are the best things in life free, or not? They cost plenty, but not money. And the costs are good for us. But I’d like to hear your take on this — please comment below.
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