One of the striking images of Costa Rica was the poverty. And Costa Rica is wealthy by many standards, although they suffer a high inflation rate, and have had a struggling economy until recently. But they have a 96% literacy rate, high levels of education across the board, and are lucky recipients of a fairly non-violent history.
They were the first country in the world to constitutionally abolish their military. Can you imagine ever doing that in the United States? I asked my boys.
Nah, too many people hate us, Zachary said.
Returning to this country, to my own home, I look around and wonder, what do I really need? Not in a guilt ridden, I’m a bad consumer and should live on bread and water forever, but an honest evaluation of what I need.
Need: something required, something necessary.
Do I need coffee in the morning? Yes. Actually I do. Do I need Starbucks coffee in the morning? Well, if I am going to drink coffee, it might as well be good.
Do I need a new car? No. My kids still fit in it, although a tad cramped, I can put stuff on the roof and it is reliable. If it stops being that? I’ll need one.
I have a lot of beautiful art, most of which I inherited from my mother. Do I need it? No but our society needs artists. We need people to write, to paint, to sing, to draw, to act because it keeps us honest, I believe, as a society. That’s a need. Maybe not mine individually, but mine as a member of society.
Do I need 8 thousand kitchen gadgets? No. But really, they are not mine, they are Jeanine’s and she swears she needs every single one. Me? Good knife, wooden spoon, spatula and tongs. I’m good.
I’m not trying to pick on Jeanine, because I know she loves her gadgets but I wonder, if we have three kinds of juicers, how many have been produced, how many are broken and how many end up in landfills?
When I get to the house in Down East (yes, you can all collectively roll your eyes at the notion I have more than one house), I go into conservation mode.
It feels good.
It’s hard to do at home. With three kids, and the accumulation of stuff from gifts, school, holidays, birthdays, not to mention our own impulse driven need to simply get something because it will make things easier, quicker, faster…
After seeing so much disparity, though, I feel overstuffed, and slightly nauseous, like after having too much Thanksgiving dinner, or eating a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
I also feel a little hopeless about how much I can do to make a difference. It’s funny, but I believe we can get marriage equality for gays and lesbians before we can tackle the environmental mess we’re in from over consumerism.
But I’m not going to go global in this act. I’m going to focus on my own little world, and do the best I can.
Because there is so much around me that I truly do not need, it makes the things I do get lost in the haze.
Besides, if we’re swearing in President Huckabee next January? I’m outta here. Not really worth it to pack three kinds of juicers, either.