The land is slowly greening around us; the budding leaves set to unfurl at any moment, the grasses emerging from a winter’s worth of dormancy. Well, it wasn’t really a winter, more like five straight Novembers, each seemingly grayer and wetter than the last. A week ago I had occasion to drive due south for two hours or more, and it was as if I were driving into summer; near the end of my trip, I even passed two herds of grazing cows, though it was still too early for them to be on grass, and I figured the farmers were either low on feed, or perhaps merely unaware of how hard it will be for those pastures to recover.
Over the weekend we visited with old friends, good friends, people we haven’t seen enough of in the past years, as we’ve all gone about the commonplace business of our lives. They live with their nine-year-old son in a small house in a small clearing carved out of the woods, about a half-hour from here. It’s a place they built themselves, still unfinished in spots in the manner of so many owner-built homes. But no less charming for it.
These friends are our age. They do not have careers in the way most of us think of “careers.” He is a carpenter, charges a fair wage and works as little as possible or maybe just a bit more. Certainly not full time or even three-quarters time. She does some gardening for hire and light landscaping. Again, part time. They spend time with their boy, they work their own garden, they make a little syrup. He keeps the car (old) and truck (older) running best he can, which is pretty damn well; he’s a skilled mechanic, entirely self-taught. They just put up a small greenhouse and are excited by that. They have many friends. They have plenty to do, but do not seem particularly “busy” in the way most of us have become accustomed to, always the breathless pressure of too much to do and not enough time to do it, often feeling imposed upon by people and forces outside our immediate sphere of influence, and therefore shouldering a niggling resentment. I bet you know what I’m talking about, or at least some of it.
It is always comforting to me to spend time with people who have figured out how to make their lives work for them, and I’ve come to realize that my greatest respect is for those whose ambition (if even you want to call it that) is reserved for creating a peaceful life. It’s sounds so simple. Almost trite, really. But think about it for a moment: How many working-class people do you know who’ve been able to pull this off? True, it’s not so easy to do in this day and age, but I also believe it’s not has hard as we talk ourselves into believing. It’s almost as if we lack the cultural awareness of the possibility.
I think that when most people say they want to live a simpler (which is really more complex, but that’s maybe a topic for another day) life, what they’re really saying is that they want to live a more peaceful life. They want their breath back. They’re weary of carrying that small resentment.
When we left our friend’s place the other night, I felt refreshed, and even a little inspired. It’s not that they live so differently than us; indeed, we connect in large part because we embody similar beliefs and similar ideas about how we want to shape our lives. But it’s nice to be reminded of these things. Indeed, it’s important to be reminded of these things, and maybe even necessary. Because for everything we’re learning in this era of mass information and virtual connectivity, there’s a whole lot we’re forgetting. And some of it’s actually pretty damn important.