The Best Things In Life: Free, Or Not?

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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  • allison
    October 5, 2011

    I love this post, even though I don’t necessarily agree with one part of it. Ali’s writing is beautiful and flowing and timeless.

    I would posit that all who are alone are not lonely. People have different levels of desire for social interaction, some great, some slight. I live out in the country where I – and most of my neighbors – have a lesser desire. It’s what called us out here to begin with, I think: Solitude. I crave solitude like Ali craves community. And since there isn’t cable TV out here, and satellites don’t work (we tried during football season a few years ago), we don’t sit and watch TV either. Late in the evenings after all work is done, we mostly read, or talk. Sometimes we play games, but not that often.

    This time of year we’re firing up the woodstove again, as temps dip below 40. This is a favorite time of year for me – sitting in front of the fire, smelling apples and pears drying in the back room, reading (or tonight, writing here on Ali’s blog), and listening to the rain falling outside. The dogs are snoring. I love this life.

    It may sound boring or slow, but to me it’s anything but. It’s a chance to savor life at a pace of my choosing…each moment passing at its own pace.

    I recognise that this is what Ali is doing too, savoring life at her pace, her choosing.

    There’s a saying, “It is good to be reminded that not all have the same dream.” …Humans are obviously widely diverse in our wants, desires and needs.

    Thanks for the opportunity to express my view, Ali!


  • Alison
    October 7, 2011

    Allison, I’m going to use your flowing, beautiful and timeless comment later this month as a post in its own right.

    Thank you, dear friend!

  • Romy
    December 11, 2013

    Indeed. I mean, money makes things easier, I won’t deny a new sweater makes me feel very good. It’s not about that though. It’s about being around the one you love. Because a sweater will make you feel happy, but that, makes yóu happy.

    • Alison
      December 11, 2013

      Romy, I’m right with you! I enjoy a good new sweater, too . . . .but the people I love, a lot more. I think the people we love need a lot more back from us than the sweater does. It takes energy, and skills. And our culture of consumerism and entertainment doesn’t help us build those skills. I think that to live well and be rich in what matters, we have to swim against the tide. Diamond-Cut Life is about doing that swimming together, with joy. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Romy. Hope to hear from you again.

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