On our way to Maine one summer, my older son and I found ourselves following one of the most ridiculous looking cars I have ever seen. It was a sports utility vehicle, laden with all the evidence of American consumerism and conspicuous consumption. Lashed onto the top were a canoe and a kayak. Strapped onto the back bumper were four bicycles. Golf clubs, tennis rackets, and camping equipment were visible through the Jeep’s back window. Every car that passed by stared in astonishment at this visible study in recreational excess.
The thing I found most remarkable about the vehicle in front of us was that we owned it. My husband and younger son were driving our Jeep up to Maine, and we followed. After staring at our car for some miles, and noticing the attention it was attracting from drivers-by, I decided that this was an auspicious moment to have a discussion with my older child about “nonmaterialism.” I explained, trying to keep a straight face, that his father and I were dedicated to an ethic of simplicity, diminishing consumption, and intentional reduction in material accumulation.
My son greeted this pronouncement with hysterical laughter. Even I had to chuckle. But I was persistent, and after his raucous laughter subsided, I explained how, throughout our married life we had, both of us, consistently chosen jobs that paid less, even when we were offered positions that paid more; how we had invested our modest resources into education and travel rather than in real estate and furniture; and how we tried constantly to decrease our dependence and reliance on material wealth. Notwithstanding the visual evidence to the contrary, we were working to simplify our lifestyle.
Robert listened to everything I said, and then he replied, “I understand Mom. You and Dad are nonmaterialistic. You just aren’t very good at it.”
Excerpted with permission from Amethyst Beach: Meditations, copyright 2007 by Barbara Merritt (Skinner House Books). Available from the UUA Bookstore.