Saturday, November 23, 2019

Simplicity and Value

The smaller and simpler your life is, the less reasonable it is to be advised not to sweat the small things.

Consider if you were bedridden, and had someone visit three times/day to feed you and make sure you're OK. If one time that person were less than friendly, most people would call you petty for letting it bother you. But if that's your sole human contact, it's an entirely different framing.

Or consider a poor child with only one toy...and that toy breaks. An American kid with overflowing closets would surely say "I've broken a few of mine, too. What a drag! Have your parents go buy you a new one!" A whole separate perspective.

When your world is very small and very simple, everything counts in a way that's impossible for privileged people to understand. For people in the First World - living sprawling, enriched lives - virtually nothing really counts. And the interesting question is: Which perspective is tragic? Seemingly grubby impoverishment? Or our distinctive fusion of jaded aristocratic numbness and hysterical hypersensitivity? Who's got it right?

I'd never tell an Indian or African villager not to sweat small stuff. To do so would be obscene. The fact that this phrase strikes us as not only sensible, but an uplifting priority-restorer only fuels my conviction that everyone here is wealthy. Bunch of swells.

I got strangely rattled the other day at the Ecuadorian buffet I visit several times per week, when the juice lady directed me in incomprehensible vernacular QuiteƱo Spanish. I wasn't sure what was happening, but she didn't play her part of our usual routine where I shyly order and she hands me my coconut drink, smiles, and wishes me buen provecho. It's then normally my part to accept said coconut drink with the grinning delight of a summer camper receiving his ice cream cup. But this time it didn't happen and I nearly lost it, to my enormous surprise.

The coconut drink is really good (it's like the long lost kind I eagerly hankered for at Miami Airport in the 70s en route to visiting the grandparents), but not something offering any serious gourmet gratification. It's a simple pleasure I could live without. But, for whatever reason, this disruption snuck over my extraordinarily high tolerance for things not going my way, leaving me bewildered and disorientated, like if my toes had suddenly disappeared.

Was I being sucked back into the life drama I keep describing as self-indulgent? It didn't feel that way. I just hadn't previously recognized that this is one of very few things spurring grinning eagerness for me these days. That's just how my life's set up, and intentionally so (I'm not grim, but neither do I grin). With this factored in, my reaction made more sense.

When I went to pay, the drink was waiting for me. Juice lady had simply told me to get in line and that she'd have it ready for me by the time I reached the cashier. I snatched it up like ice cream, knowing enough not to fluff my lingering shakiness into a dramatic hindsight story. Instead, I tried to use the experience constructively, to better understand the world. Hence this posting.

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