BY DAVID S. LEWIS
Ever think about all the stuff? Not just the big stuff—cars, pickup trucks, locomotives—but the smaller stuff too, and in decreasing order of size as you move from the garage, with all the junk in there, then through the house, closets, and drawers. When people move, they haul it around in big moving vans or try to pawn it off on others at garage sales. If in doubt about its usefulness, they stash it in the attic, the basement, or an outbuilding. And as they die, the little smile you see on their faces is them thinking now I won’t have to deal with all that stuff.
By all means, make wise purchases. Modern life requires amenities—refrigerators, washing machines, furniture—and the soul yearns for finely crafted goods, art, and quality products in general. But not junk. There’s so much of it that it can hardly be named or categorized, much less organized; and now that summer’s here there’s more of it around—those flimsy plastic deck chairs that will break in six months, that snorkeling gear with the mask that leaks, and those worn out sneakers you’re saving for poor people living in the slums of Mexico City. And what about the old computers and keyboards, wristwatches, sunglasses, air mattresses, all the plastic toys you bought for the kids, that obsolete cell phone that was once so cool, then all that coaxial cable you can’t find a use for, the bucket of rusty nails in the corner of the garage? And, yes, the appliance you once looked forward to with such anticipation, the trusty Vegematic—it slices, it dices…
That only scratches the surface—the sea of life is awash with junk, as the tide of consumerism rises above any bulwark one tries to construct around his existence. With children in the house, multiply all of the above by a factor of ten. Do the math (or, rather, the geometry) and life in a hut on a remote Pacific island presents itself as an attractive alternative.
Yet all this stuff provides an excellent lesson in elementary economics, because as supply and useless-ness increases, demand drops, until some wonderful little doo-dad you bought at Walmart ten years ago for $23.95 is worth 10 cents at a garage sale. That’s if someone else is foolish enough to take it home. More likely, you’ll have to pay the garbage collector to take it away and taxes for the county landfill.
One day, five thousand years from now, archaeologists digging through our barely decayed plastic-ware will consider the kind of lives we’ve led. Although we live in an Age of Invention, our time will also be thought of as a time when people forgot the reason for their existence and instead purchased all sorts of material goods they thought might somehow pass for their greater good (the trick is to buy things that are useful). Hoarders all, they will say. Inhabitants of our world in the far-flung future might even somehow resurrect a DVD player and watch Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie as they fight bad guys, wield laser weapons, or have sex. What a fascinating people, they will say, and so good looking, but will you look at all the junk they made.
In nature, of course, a pine cone falls to the earth, decays, and gives rise to a new tree. It’s elegant, and there’s no housework. Organic materials return to the molecules and nutrients from which they originated, as the essence of things returns to its source. There, in the essence of the quintessence, there’s no junk, no uselessness, just amorphous ectoplasm permeating the ethers—the ever-present, malleable, and invisi-ble ingredient of which all things are made. So, we can rest assured in the fact that the junk will eventually decompose and return whence it came. But that won’t be next Tuesday, which happens to be trash day.
In the meantime, we sow seeds that give birth to the future, not just in terms of material stuff and the physical space we occupy, but in the space we occupy with our minds, hearts and values. In the interconnectedness of all things, as we stroll through and participate in the infinite self-organizing dynamic called Life, we make choices that bear fruit. One might be to simplify, holding up as an example the image of the saddhu with his wooden bowl and loin cloth, his only possessions. That’s not realistic, of course, but oh to live the simple life, cancel the satellite feed, dispose of the clutter, feel the sanctity of free empty space—the physical reflection of free, uncluttered Mind.
What’s that you say? —Little Bobby wants a smartphone. Take him to the river instead, where he’ll lose himself for hours playing on the bank and skimming stones. He’ll be a real boy.
As a body gets closer to four score and ten, these lessons ought to sink in. It’s about value, isn’t it—economics and what has worth? And in the scheme of things, life takes care of itself, one way or another. It creates and decays and creates again, magically, using readily soluble materials and an inexhaustible energy supply that acts with balance and perfect intelligence. Why not go along with the plan?
Still, a body has to eat. Now where’s that Vegematic?