“Men are homesick amid this mad rush for wealth and place and power. The calm of the country invites and we would fain do with less things and go back to simplicity.” -Elbert Green Hubbard
THIS PAST SUMMER I WITNESSED MY FIRST BANK RUN. In my mind bank runs occur only in a black and white past, but this one was happening on a brilliant July morning, very much in the here and now. The vivid light of summer was streaked by darkness in the faces of fearful people who were waiting in a long, winding column for the bank to open. And their fear spread: since then, alarming talk about the economy has filled the gaps between election news reports like mud between bricks, and each day the teetering wall of anxiety grows to cast a longer shadow. As you read this you will know the outcome of the presidential election. I can only hope that fears of the collapse of Wall Street and the global economy are also behind you by now.
The Great Depression permanently imprinted my frugal parents, but my generation has known only times of plenty, so fear of losing our stuff can make us easy prey for anxiety mongers—the 24-hour harbingers of bad news. During one sleepless night of economic worry it occurred to me that Mom and Dad seldom complained about the hardships of the ’30s. Instead, they related fond memories of times spent with friends and family in simple pleasures: spending a few cents for a picnic watermelon; visiting friends’ homes on evenings and weekends; peaceful days in the backyard garden, tending fruits and vegetables for the family table; nights sitting around a beach bonfire. For many like my parents, the Depression had wiped away materialism to reveal the simple and genuine.
Those wee hour thoughts led me to the realization that, as with my parents, many of the most memorable times of my own past have had nothing to do with money, or if they did, it was frequently because I had so little of it that I had to find or invent my amusements rather than buy them. Moreover, it dawned on me that many sleepless nights like this one were due to worries about maintenance or ongoing costs of extravagant stuff I once couldn’t wait to buy. Having grasped those reassuring facts I slumbered peacefully.
Change is certain, yet we often dread it—even do our best to prevent it. But I can honestly say that most of the changes I once feared and resisted are now, in hindsight, recognized as having been opportunities instead. A company layoff forced me to freelance, and freelancing led to founding a design company. Then, as bigger ones swallowed up our corporate clients, we turned to focus on our fledgling magazine. After a wobbly takeoff, the magazine brought purpose and satisfaction.
Nobody wants hard times and I’m not advocating poverty here. Quite the opposite: I believe we should celebrate our wealth, preserve it and strive for more. The question is, what is wealth? Is it achieved on the treadmill of the rat race, feverishly scrambling to die with the most toys? No, I think it comes to us naturally in the quiet of our inglenooks while we admire the quality and craftsmanship of our cozy bungalow homes, savor the poetry of a good book, experience the enchantment of a baby’s smile or the warmth of closeness to another. Freedom. Peace. That’s real wealth.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
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