Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Life examples

What is the ideal life? Well, that means different things to different people, I guess. Each person has to answer that question as it pertains to her/his individual experience and dreams. Ed and I have chosen to view our ideal life as one of living simply yet comfortably with less focus on material, tangible things and more concentration on other priorities. To some folks, though, the simple life means working less and having a lot of time to relax every day. Everyone can understand downsizing to a smaller house, or a smaller car, or a less expansive closet. But when the conversation turns more towards purpose, I notice several of my acquaintances become flustered. Isn't the purpose of a simple life to relax? Isn't that what, for example, retirement is all about? What do people mean when they say that they dream of a life of simplicity?

Occasionally on my journey I take time to think about role models for the ideal life. This morning I had a serendipitous experience when I sat down in the early hours of the morning with my cup of hot tea and flipped on the TV for a few minutes. I discovered that I was in the middle of a biography of Rosalynn Carter. What a remarkable lady! Would her life today be described as simple? No, I don't think so. Would it be described as compassionate, fulfilled, full of love, full of contentment, full of purpose? Oh, my, yes! She is one busy woman, and I would find it hard to maintain her schedule even at my age. She is vice chair of The Carter Center, where she functions as ambassador, mediator, human rights and peace promoter. She continues to advocate for mental health reform. She and Jimmy also are heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity and other community-minded endeavors. In addition to this, she is a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother.

Now, be truthful. If you looked back at the list of recent presidential administrations, would you include Jimmy and Rosalynn in the "glamorous" ones? Dazzling? Charismatic? Sophisticated? Elegant? No, they always have considered themselves simple, ordinary people. They are simple. But simple with a purpose. Their ideal life consists of reaching out through their ordinary lives to touch the lives of others in extraordinary ways. For them, simplicity and contentment does not mean relaxing. They are busy people. But they are busy in what counts in life - not busy to make themselves monetarily rich, not busy to make themselves look good. They give to the world and they value their family life. And in doing so they find their purpose.

Then there's my dad. Now, I feel obliged at this point to apologize for again bringing him into my posts, but for those of you who did not know him, you need to realize he was an exceptional human being, which, of course, made him an exceptional husband, an exceptional father, and an exception friend. My story is this:

When my sister and I were teenagers, we had the opportunity to usher for performances at the Auditorium, and after ushering, we were allowed to sit and watch the shows for free. We saw the Metropolitan Opera perform. We saw Fiddler on the Roof and other Broadway shows. We saw the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. We saw Van Cliburn, the concert pianist. All without paying a penny. After every show, late at night, Daddy would drive downtown and pick us up. Knowing he had to get up the next day to go to work or church, he still came. Without ever a complaint. When I became an adult, I would marvel at the sacrifice he had made for us for so many years, something I really didn't appreciate at the time. I asked him once, "Daddy, why did you let us do all that when it was so much trouble for you to get us there and pick us up so late?" He said, "I did it because I knew you girls would have never had the opportunity otherwise to see such things." In a way, doing that made his life more hectic, less simple, but to him his sacrifice had meaning. In the same way, he lived frugally so he could spend money on home movies. He lived frugally so he could give more money to the church and other charities.

Daddy and Rosalynn have one thing in common. It's their desire for simplicity and personal fulfillment and contentment, knowing that the first step is getting their priorities in place.

I want to live simply not for the sake of living simply, but to gain more time for my priorities. By accumulating less, spending more judiciously, and making wise use of time and energy, I am actually freeing up my life for the important things, like relationships. Simplicity is not the goal; it is the tool. It is not the destination; it is the means.

What is the ideal life? I think I'm made some progress answering that question for me. Now it's your turn.

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