“Enough” is a concept I struggle with. I think Dad struggled with it too.
When Dad first moved back to New York after the divorce, all he had was his collection of video tapes, his clothing, his books, stereo equipment, and one car, his trusty LeBaron. He had sold almost everything else in the “old house,” the house I had grown up in, to pay court costs and have some money to live on. And as he built a new life as a high school history teacher, he re-built his collections.
Dad got his father to co-sign on a loan for a new car, a Buick. Later he traded the Buick to my sister for her Explorer. A few years after that, he took possession of my grandparents’ giant Yukon, after the team driving efforts of my BLIND grandfather and helpful-navigator grandmother had nearly killed a local teen. And a couple years after that, he bought me a Pontiac, which he took back when I left on my nomadic back-pack journey across the United States.
When Dad died, he had 4 cars – the LeBaron, the Explorer, the Yukon, and the Pontiac. His apartment only had parking for one car, so the others were parked on nearby side streets. At any given time, one or more cars was in a shop, getting repaired. It took us months to track down the cars that were being repaired or “borrowed” by less than savory characters. We took the Yukon back to Michigan and sold it. We took the Pontiac back to Michigan where it got passed around and eventually became mine again. From two states away, we took action to recover the Explorer and LeBaron, which were sold or scrapped.
Why did he feel the need to hang on to four cars? I’ll never know all the reasons. I know sometimes if he was running a school event, he liked taking the Yukon because he was able to give 5 or 6 kids rides home afterwards. Both the Yukon and the Explorer were undeniably capable in New York’s legendary snowy winters. He seemed to like showing off in the sporty Pontiac when picking up a lady for dinner. And of course, the LeBaron was his baby, purchased just before my sister Rachel was born in 1987, and lovingly maintained for 22 years. Dad was proud of the 300,000 on the LeBaron.
But Dad wasn’t the one who had to clean up. Three years later, we’re still coming up with solutions for all the things he accumulated. Just recently, I took a bag of 60+ ties to my seamstress friend. We laid all the ties out on the floor and sorted them by rough color/pattern categories. About 20 of them are going to be turned into a skirt for me. Some of the tails are getting turned into bracelets I imagine I’ll be giving away for the next decade.
I think about Dad’s accumulation of cars, books, clothing, dishes, furniture, and stereo equipment all the time. I’m surrounded by it, even though the large storage unit is done. I don’t want my own stuff to ever become someone else’s burden, so I sort, I purge, I donate. I’m down to 8 pairs of shoes, from 20 or more.
I have enough stuff. Enough clothing to keep me warm, enough books (ok, more than enough books) to keep me entertained and educated, enough food to satisfy my hunger. My new question is, am I doing enough? After reading an article entitled “Voting for Poverty” by Raam Dev (http://raamdev.com/2011/voting-for-poverty/ ) I’ve been thinking more and more about that topic. Today it hit me especially hard.
Today was my day off from my job at the homeless shelter. I went and checked on my mother’s cat, and on my way out of town, I saw a hair salon whose front yard was covered with junk mail from (perhaps) a mail truck explosion. I started picking up papers and was soon joined by a man walking by. In a few minutes, we had filled a garbage bag with stray papers and the salon’s yard looked much nicer. After that, I went to my weekly event, where I set up a card table in a park and gave out slices of pie to anyone who walked by. All my “pie regulars” (some of whom are not eligible for services at the shelter) were happy to see me, and I was happy to see them. When all the pie was gone, I dropped off a bag of clothing at Salvation Army and was finally on my home.
As I was getting on the highway, I saw a man standing by the exit, holding a cardboard sign. I kept driving.
To go back and help him would have been slightly out of my way, and would have taken up more time. But I didn’t let that stop me when I picked up all the junk mail littering that business’s front yard earlier in the day. I still had $10 in my wallet, $10 that I will probably not be spending on a vital necessity. My utilities are paid. The internet is on. We have enough groceries. I still have a half-tank of gas in my car.
How much stuff is enough? I know the answer to that question. I don’t need or want very much stuff, and as a result, I can spend my time and money on experiences that are more valuable to me. I have time and money enough to give away free pie to the hungry in part because I don’t have a $30/week manicure habit and I don’t have any cable series to catch up on when I get home or have a day off.
But how much help is enough? How much kindness is enough? How much charity is enough? I don’t know the answer to those questions.