Enough, Already

December 2, 2013 § 10 Comments

Get 'em while they're hot!

Get ‘em while they’re hot!

The other evening, the four of us watched a Bill Moyers interview with Wendell Berry. It’s a bit of an ordeal to watch anything on a screen in our house; we have an old computer set up in the corner of our living room, which Penny uses for photo-related stuff and which the boys listen to music on, but to actually sit comfortably in front of it requires wholesale rearrangement of furniture. The overstuffed chair/dog bed must be slid to one side, the other overstuffed chair/cat bed must be slid to the other side, and the old sofa/dogandcatbed must be pushed across the floor until it is within general proximity of the computer. This is all ok by us; frankly, we’d rather it weren’t particularly convenient to avail ourselves of passive entertainment in this house, and there is the small compensation of all the long-lost items revealed by said rearrangement.

Anyway and whatnot. I have to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of Wendell Berry. I realize this puts me at risk of sacrificing whatever so-called sustainable agrarian credentials I might have cultivated over the years, but there you have it. It’s not like the man’s not a genius, or that I fundamentally disagree with anything he has to say. And what little of his poetry and fiction I’ve been exposed to, I’ve quite enjoyed. But I’ve always had a hard time with his essays. I’ve just never found them that compelling or readable.

The interview was at once mildly disappointing and fantastic. The disappointment was not for anything Wendell said or didn’t say, but rather, I think, due to the format of a made-for-television experience. It was clearly edited with a heavy hand to fit the boundaries of a particular time slot and to add some visual intrigue. But the overlays of the earnest audience member faces, awash in a soft, honeyed glow as they listened attentively and then in some post-production bit of magic, overlaid atop Wendell’s written words as he read from the text, were a bit much. Myself, I woulda rather they just let the man talk.I woulda rather just watched Wendell. He has such a wonderfully open and expressive face.

The interview also made me want to give some of Wendell’s essays another shot. He’s an enormously endearing fellow and in person, at least, dispenses his wisdom in a way that radiates humility and grace. If you can watch that interview and not feel as if you simply like the guy, not feel inspired to radiate a bit more humility and grace your own bad self… well, I don’t even know what to say. You’re probably one of those miserably unsentimental hard asses who’s not moved to tears by this song.

There was much of what Wendell said that lends itself to discussion, but the thing that really caught Penny’s and my ear was his comment on making a living. “Making a living isn’t about making a killing. It’s about having enough,” is what he said, or close enough to it.

Penny and I talk about this all the time. The question I have for Wendell, the question I would dearly love to ask him if I only I could, is this: What is enough? Because this is the other thing Penny and I talk about frequently: How do we decide what enough is? In many cases, I suspect, we don’t have enough. We certainly don’t have enough money saved to ensure we could weather any one of the numerous setbacks that may at some point befall us, be they health-related, job-related, or some unforeseeable contingency. We certainly don’t have enough to feel entirely confident that we will be able to live out our old age in the modest standard of living to which we’ve become accustomed.

But in so many other regards, we have much more than enough. We own 40-acres and a spacious home and we have more autonomy over our days than almost anyone I know. We have a truck and a car and a tractor and a computer upon which to watch a Wendell Berry interview. We have four freezers filled by the good, sweet work of our own hands. We have the company of our children, our friends, our family. We have more than so many. We could, in many regards, do just fine with less.

I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m being too hard on Wendell. I don’t think it’s his responsibility to define “enough” for me, any more than it’s my responsibility to define “enough” for anyone else.

I just think it’d be a really interesting conversation.

§ 10 Responses to Enough, Already

  • Eumaeus says:

    If you can grow, flower and set viable seed then it is enough.

  • Anne says:

    I am remembering several years ago when a good friend of mine wrote Wendell Berry a letter and mailed it off to Kentucky. To her great surprise, he wrote back and they had an old-fashioned back and forth letter-writing correspondence for quite a long while. I’d imagine that he would welcome your question and the ensuing conversation. To me, this openness toward correspondence has always spoken to the humility of the man which you astutely saw.

  • heathermama says:

    although i didn’t watch the interview… i have long pondered the idea of “enough”. what is it? do we have it? is there a “one size fits all” enoughness?
    we are city folks and so many of the people we know and love have SOOOO much, too much, more than enough. and so do we. but there is always that feeling, way back someplace in your head that you don’t have enough. if you only had…. (fill in the blank with money, or house, or car, or things, or saving, whatever) then you would be set, you would be ok.
    personally, i think humans in general are a bit greedy. not all humans, but most. and for some the need for more is real, i mean if you have no house, no food, no clean water, sanitation, etc etc, then you need more.
    in our house, in our lives, we have enough. we just need to recognize it and appreciate it. it is so easy to get caught up in wondering… do we need a bigger house? do we need more money? do we have enough? i know we do. i can look around and see we have MORE than enough. just remembering it sometimes is hard.
    thank you for the reminder.

  • emanuel says:

    Enough should be measured by a love o meter in the house.

  • Tonya says:

    We talk about this so often too… We recently discontinued our wholesale business because we don’t want to turn into a production facility/factory. Rye’s wreaths reminds me so much of some of our children’s doings. Sarah just this minute showed me a sign she made for a fair we are doing this weekend – “Sarah’s Naturals” she is calling it.

  • This question of enough has been rolling around in my head for years. After settling into having my own business I realized that I had barely enough to keep doing what I wanted to do which was continue to learn. I began to realize that I’d chosen a career path which would provide enough to support me, but not a lot of extra. But my work fulfills so much more than the stuff that money can buy would. My point is only that we all have such choices to make no matter what the content of our lives may be. Folks keep reminding me that our overall economy has been under strain for a few years now. And while I see so much circulation under the umbrella of that strain, I also feel the strain that is being put on the middle class on a more macro level. It’s all there for us to negotiate in our individual ways. I think that perhaps Berry’s point is better understood in hindsight. In the thick of trying to meet all our needs and wants and consider all the looming possibilities one can get overwhelmed. Which is all the more reason to spend the majority of one’s time doing what we love. In the end it all fits into place and is perfectly enough.

  • Aaron says:

    If everyone left the TV off for just 1 hour a day and pondered this very question, we’d be a part of a very different world. This question in and of itself has led to some of my best discoveries, your books and blog being among them.


    So…How much is enough…?

  • dawn says:

    So many things come to mind when reading this post. First, love Rye’s wreaths! I hope my boys will be as creative and entrepreneurial when they are his age.
    In the first few weeks after the birth of my second son, I would wake up with that song in my head and find myself singing a version of it to my sons even though I was not particularly listening to it at the time. I remember wondering if Axl Rose knew he had written a lullaby!
    As far as enough, that is one of the eternal questions, isn’t it? Our priest spoke about this just yesterday as he encouraged the congregation to take advantage of our Outreach Commission’s Alternative Christmas. This is an event where people can make contributions to the local charitable organizations we support in honor of a loved one in place of a typical gift. In the sermon he mentioned something about when you find yourself saying “enough is enough” you probably have it. I can’t say more about it as I was chasing my boys around the parish hallway at the time but I think I got the point. When you find yourself recognizing an abundance in any sector of your life, it spills over into others and you probably do have the elusive “enough.” At least, you have enough of whatever you spend the majority of your energy trying to accumulate which could or could not be the best things for you depending on your circumstances. I think it all goes back to pouring your life energy into the things which matter most to you and staying aware so you can recognize when you find a balanced place. Only then can you feel you have enough. Peace is the goal for me and my family and we judge everything we do based on whether it brings peace to our household or not. May not work for everyone but it is what I think if when I hear “enough.” I’m blessed to say I have an abundance of what matters to me and work hard to keep all the other stuff out. Thanks for the post, Ben!

  • Doug W. says:

    Ah, the 64,000 dollar question. What is enough! There is a wonderful book by Azby Brown called “Just Enough” about Edo Japan–250 years without contact with the outside world until 1867. The title comes from a zen inscription at a Zen Monastery, “I know what just enough is”. Edo Japan was a pre-fossil fuel society, that was quite livable at a materially spare level. Three sections describe life in rural towns, city, and among the samari class. What is fascinating is the lists of sustainability principles at the end of each section that could be used to create a post-carbon society in our time. We certainly can’t go back to Edo Japan, but we find our own way by trying to figure out what “just enough is” for ourselves.

  • Kent says:

    “Abundance is not measured by what flows in, but by what flows over. The smaller we make the vessel of our need…the sooner we get the overflow we need for delight.” (Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine Monk, Vienna, born 1926)

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