The Other 1%
November 29, 2011 § 7 Comments
Thanksgiving came and went the way I hope all of my family’s Thanksgivings forevermore will come and go. There were nearly 30 of us gathered around a long row of cobbled-together tables, friends and family ranging in age from 2 to 70. There was snow on the ground, and sledding, good conversation and laughter and, needless to say, food aplenty. We disbanded early; of the families present, four had milking animals to attend to, and of course milking animals don’t really care that you’ve eaten a few too many pieces of pie and might prefer to spend chore time splayed across the couch.
Like most of us, I take far too much of my life for granted. This is the almost-inevitable result of living amidst constant abundance and largely in accordance with my own peculiar desires. There isn’t much sacrifice in my life, or if there is, it looks and feels too much like blessing to be taken as such. Oh sure, I have my moments, little petulant temper tantrums that tend to crop up when I am pulled in too many directions and it feels as if the needs of others are usurping my own. But like most of the stories we tell ourselves, this one is primarily of my own internalized design, and after Penny talks me down, I am always struck by how much of how we relate and react to the world is of our choosing.
From which I can only extrapolate: It is my choice to take so much for granted. Therefore, it can also be my choice to be more consciously grateful. Grateful for what? My family, naturally. Our animals. The friends that gathered in our home on Thanksgiving Day and those that didn’t. That fact that in about five minutes, I’m going to shut this computer down, get up from my desk, and head outside to labor alongside my wife, doing work that feels so damn good and important I don’t care a whit that nobody’s paying me to do it. The fact that I have the freedom to do this. And on and on and on.
I’ve been thinking about all of this in relation to the Occupy Wall Street protests. The protests resonate with me, but only to an extent. Because while I understand intellectually the damage done by the lockjawed grip of corporate America on the politics and policy of our nation, there’s a part of me that feels sorry for the poor demented bastards at the helm of these institutions. Ok, so maybe they’ve taken more than their share of our nation’s assets. Maybe they’re the driving force behind the unequal distribution of wealth in this country. And for this, they should be held accountable.
But of course true wealth is not confined to the narrow metric of money and stuff. And to the extent that wealth can be described as living life on one’s own terms, amidst a community that understands, supports and honors this definition, I am almost embarrassed by my affluence. Because the more I think about it, the more it feels as if I am part of the 1%. It’s the 1% that has learned (or is learning) that money is at best a partial accounting of prosperity. It’s the 1% that has learned (or is learning) that money and time are not readily conflated. It’s the 1% that spent Black Friday making or doing or simply being, rather than buying. It’s the 1% that is probably much bigger than 1%, but having no particular need for acknowledgement, is content to go quietly about its business.
It’s the 1% that can say, in all honestly, let them have it. Because what I’ve got is better.