Homely Advice on What Matters By Charles Taylor
This is good, home spun advice, relevant at this reflective time of the year, when many of us are feeling the loneliness of the season:
“In so many of us there’s a deep-seated need to matter — for our lives to matter, for our existence to have purpose. This need used to be fulfilled by the hard living that defined 99 percent of the history of humanity.
What I mean is, if you truly want to live a life that matters and filled with purpose, go back a hundred or so years, go back to when your next meal depended on your aim with a rifle, when your family’s ability to survive the winter depended on the crops and livestock not being wiped out by disease or weather, to a time when cutting firewood was an act of survival, not a quaint pastime at your summer cottage. Hell, until the rise of the middle class in the previous century, unless you were well off, you knew hunger, you knew what it was like to run out of the coal that heats your home, to live in a literal shack without central heat, without refrigeration, and only a sheet of tar paper between you and the rain.
Can you imagine living without air conditioning?
Can you imagine your house filled with smoke because you heat and illuminate it with a flame?
Can you imagine only being able to afford one pair of shoes?
Can you imagine having to stretch your food to last?
Can you imagine a Christmas where the gift of a dime is a big deal?
Can you imagine life without antibiotics, where something like strep kills children?
I’m only 53-years-old and still I’m but one generation away from shovelling coal for heat, knowing hunger, and owning one pair of shoes. You see, poverty defined my father’s childhood. Not this bullshit poverty we call “poverty” today, but poverty-poverty: hand-me-downs, lard sandwiches, running out of coal, and those rare days when a dime for the movies made you feel like a king. What I’m trying to say is … Do you have any idea how good we have it in 21st century America? Do you have any idea how blessed we are to live in a time and place where obesity — obesity! — is considered an epidemic among the poor? And not only do America’s poor have access to too much cheap food, they have access to decent housing, cell phones, education, health care, central heat, cable TV, microwaves, air conditioners, and plenty of clothing. Obviously, you cannot count the mentally ill and addicted in this group. That’s a different matter entirely… What we have in this country is ABUNDANCE, is more than enough to go around, and despite the prattling on about the wealth gap, go around it does. And let’s not forget generous welfare programs, child labor laws, and the 40 hour work week…. Good heavens, the leisure time we enjoy today… In the history of humanity, do you have any idea how unprecedented this leisure time is? How do you even begin to put a price on time? In keeping with the season, let me put it this way: Go back and read or watch a movie version of A Christmas Carol. We all used to live like Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. Things are so good in this country — so incredibly and miraculously good, that millions of us have the luxury, the unprecedented luxury, to worry about Taylor Swift’s problems with some guy named Scooter. Things are so good in this country, Taylor’s problems are national news, a drama we follow like we used to follow the Lindbergh kidnapping or the Kennedy assassination. Things are so good, tens of millions of us live with the extravagance to invest ourselves in the silly problems of a talented, famous, pretty, young, healthy woman worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Yes, all true, but as history, that is long term history that spans the human species, shows, good times do not last forever. After Autumn comes a Winter, and wise animals start putting away their chestnuts for the lean and dark times.