Abundance versus scarcity in my life

Perhaps you’re familiar with the abundance versus scarcity question. You know, do you feel you’re blessed with enough – or do you instead feel you’re always lacking.

I’m programmed from early childhood to feel the latter. My parents were children of the Great Depression, after all, and handed the attitude down.

It tends to make me something tighter than frugal. Generosity doesn’t come easily, I don’t open up to others easily, either – not even to ask for help. It’s a long list of negatives.

As I returned to this concept recently, I’ve been feeling a lot more sense that I have more than enough in many ways, even on a very limited budget.

So much for material goods.

Curiously, it’s time where I’m feeling the scarcity kick in. There’s just never enough. Not for what I’m trying to do.

I’m realizing, often after the fact, how much that outlook crimps my relationships.

This is, ultimately, a spiritual matter. The one place I find time opening up is within the hour of mostly silent Quaker worship. Not that it’s always easy, not even after all of these years I’ve been doing it. But it is always refreshing and renewing.

To think, I started meditating to get naturally high, as in stoned. But somewhere along the way it became a practice to simply get natural – to breathe and get grounded again.

Oh, but I’m still on the internal clock, even there. How on earth am I supposed to cope with Eternity just around the corner?

At last, an end to a vexing online shopping experience

Today, a month and eight days after I placed a kitchen-goods online order during a Cyber-Monday sale, I finally have closure on a Christmas present that was never shipped, much less delivered. It was supposed to be here December 9, a date that kept getting pushed back to January 20, as it last stood.

Desperately, when I realized the said item wasn’t going to arrive in time for the gift exchange, contrary to promises, I found other presents to wrap and place under the tree for my beloved. But that didn’t resolve the suspense of the tangled order. Nobody could or would do anything to come through for me, not even cancel the order. I hate feeling helpless. Or, for that matter, idiotic. I was told to stay calm, it would be here on time. Except, of course, it wasn’t.

Now, thanks to a vigilant customer service supervisor who followed up at the end of December on a long call I had made shortly before Christmas, the order is now cancelled. Whew! Inhale deeply. I’m no longer hanging in limbo. The email of confirmation arrived today.

It wasn’t easy. We all hate fighting bureaucracies, whether they’re capitalist corporations or governmental agencies.

From other interactions regarding the order, I have the feeling the supervisor was swimming upstream through company policy to finally arrive at a solution, and for that I’m appreciative. Perhaps she was able to identify a breakdown in the bigger system and get something fixed. These actions reflect the kind of dedication that deserves promotion. I’ll always root for the underdog.

In many ways, this was a no-win situation. Who knows how much they spent processing the order or parrying my calls and emails, the ones before she emailed me out of the blue, noting that she had been checking her records and saw that nothing had happened yet. I asked (again) that the order be cancelled, and two days later she came through. All in all, it probably adds up to as much as I would have spent on the product and negatively impacted on the bottom line. Admittedly, I’m now unlikely to ever again buy from the company. At least not until she winds up as CEO.

Still, it’s reassuring to know somebody cared and knows what it means to be doing the real job.

A definitely wrong spirit of Christmas

As they pulled up at home after a jaunt to the grocery, another car scuttled out the other end of their driveway.

They didn’t recognize the vehicle or the figures who had hopped in a split-second earlier, but the action certainly was suspicious.

Then they found one Christmas wreath on the ground beside the barn and another, still hanging on the white clapboards, with its wires quite bent.

Yes, two people were trying to steal the Christmas wreaths from the siding!

Kinda puts a damper on that “goodwill to men,” doesn’t it? Though the phrase is, more accurately, “to men of good will.”

We’re still baffled that some people have so little conscience that they’ll resort to this, but maybe they’re desperate to veil themselves in images foreign to their real nature.

Um, look around, though, and it’s far more universal than I want to think.

This points toward the hard work of changing hearts and actions – literally, repentance – that the life of Jesus embodies.

Well, I won’t go off on that sermon just now. But we are still saddened by the audacity of ill will.

Ten surefire gifts

Who are we trying to fool? Selecting the appropriate gift requires an uncanny understanding of the intended recipient, and even then and in the right hands, it’s highly risky.

The closest success in this field that I recall hearing involved a coworker who was at a unique point in his love life. He wound up buying three identical items at Victoria’s Secret. Need I explain? Things were quite different after Christmas.

And even then, not everyone would want to receive one of those wrapped intimacies.

So let’s think of ten factors to consider.

  1. Does the recipient already own this? Oops! How well do you know this person, anyway? Well enough to go through their shelves or closet?
  2. Or even want it? Not every woman likes getting flowers or chocolate. Not all that many guys do, either. As for kids?
  3. The dollar signs. Some people measure your affection by your willingness to shell out on a big gift. Others see it as trying to buy their love. Gift cards, by the way, often go unused. Retailers are not a charity. Don’t go overboard, OK?
  4. Is it a suitable surprise? One they might actually use? Your grandmother will likely be surprised by that box of golf balls but never set foot anywhere near a tee. Yard sales are full of these misfires, often still in their original wrappings.
  5. Does it say something about your relationship? Some of the best gifts are things you can enjoy together. Jigsaw puzzles, for example, can keep everyone going, especially during the holidays.
  6. Not everyone appreciates receiving a homemade present, but for others, it’s the ultimate. One friend’s woodworking skills are especially anticipated. Pie boxes, anyone?
  7. There’s something to be said for gifts that won’t take up space. Things you can eat or drink, for instance. Tickets to upcoming events. (In my part of the universe, few things would beat a pair of seats at a Red Sox-Yankees game.) Museum memberships or contributions to causes they support may also be welcome.
  8. Does it improve the quality of their life? My family has edged me upward in the digital world this way.
  9. Hobby gear. Think sports equipment, cooking gadgets, sewing supplies, arts and crafts, gardening, and so on.
  10. Dream fulfillment. Was there something they wanted as a child but never got?

What other considerations would you suggest?

 

Small-time patronage

Another manifesto I cut from my novel What’s Left, is a vision of a wide community of artists who have employable day-jobs:

One night, as Nita will exclaim, Hey! We’re the biggest patrons of the arts around here! She’ll be right. We’ll have poets as bakers. Painters as mechanics. Sculptors as gardeners. On weekend evenings, there will be folk music and jazz in the restaurant, as well as Sunday afternoon chamber music recitals. Baba will change the art exhibits monthly. In time, we’ll even have to create mail-order catalogs for some of these expanding industries. And that’s the conservative forecast.

Oh, I’m so glad she stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

Well, we can dream, can’t we? Somewhere in Nita’s discourse I hear a plea for a less ugly, less brutal society – one overflowing with harmony and compassion instead. Rather than the mass-media push for blockbusters – movies, hit songs, or bestseller books – she emphasizes face-to-face, small-scale exchanges.

Do you resonate with anything in Nita’s vision? How do we support each other? How do you support your friends? And how do they support you?

Looking for ways to include everyone

Sometimes, when you look into the eyes of desperation, you wonder what the downtrodden might be able to do to help themselves – and others.

In my novel What’s Left, her family has the resources to make some things happen, but they’re small fry in the face of the bigger issues. Here’s a passage I trimmed from the final version of the story:

Baba, of course, retreats earlier by heading to the monastery, just as all the big moves start unfolding. He returns to a different world, apart from the family core – and its true love.

Not that everybody’s talented. Barney and even Dimitri come up with odd jobs for the vagabonds who materialize around the loading docks of restaurants … the aimless hippie, too … and rather than a handout, Can you lend a hand? You know, scrubbing or raking or sweeping or helping move supplies from a delivery van – anything that then might lead to a free meal or spending the night in Barney’s old car. If we don’t have something at the restaurant, maybe there’s something else to do around Mount Olympus.

Oh, I’m so glad she stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

I really do wish I had answers. Maybe we need to start small. Any suggestions for Barney and Dimitri in the novel, like helping unpack a truck or sweeping the walk?

What do you do to help others? Not family, but the wider community?