The Scourge of the Century

As we approach another holiday season, we should ask ourselves a few questions before we start a wish list: How many of us have a cell phone? An iPod? Desktop computer? Laptop? Netbook? Smart phone? More than one television? More clothes, shoes, toys, gadgets, and luxuries than we can count? In general, Americans have most, if not all, of these things in their homes; how many do we actually need?

In reality, we don’t need anything of the sort. Our culture has become so materialistic that it cons us into believing that we must have more, that we must always be better, richer than our fellow man, that we must never be content with what we have. More, more, more, more! Like a bunch of greedy little kids on a holiday, we are never satisfied. Ain’t it great to be an American? I realize this is extremely stereotypical and not everyone is like this, but let’s face it: on the whole, we Americans aren’t doing a lot to dispute the stereotype. The holiday season is supposed to be about simple family celebration, about being with the ones you love, yet we lavish all our resources trying to “one up” the previous year’s celebration, trying to out do our neighbor’s light displays. What on Earth is wrong with us?

I recently had an experience that showed me how little we actually need all our creature comforts. During the first snow storm of the season, the wind blew so hard it felled a massive pine tree, casting it across the street on top of the power cables and tearing them from my house. The electricity was out all night until the power company could come and reattach the cables. I must admit, having wires down across the road and in the yard made maneuvering the cherry pickers look like quite an adventure. The electricians successfully reattached the cables around six in the morning – after an hour’s worth of work – and drove away.
We realized there was a minor technicality when we noticed smoke issuing from the water heater. The next tip off came a few hours later when we tried to turn on the coffee pot; with a crackling sound similar to the retort of several .22 rifles, the circuitry began to fry. If we had let it go a few seconds longer, there’s a very good chance that it could have caught fire; thankfully, we managed to unplug it before that could happen.
It turns out a catastrophic mistake involving crossed wires was made by the linemen that morning. Simply put, a 240 volt surge was sent through a 120 volt circuit, effectively frying everything on the left side of the panel (i.e. the water heater, both refrigerators, multiple clocks, the microwave, numerous light fixtures, the internet modem, the phones, and the freezer - it was easier to list what still worked than it was to list what didn’t). We were without any of our modern day conveniences or appliances for almost two weeks.

Looking back, it made me realize that we can get by without our gizmos and gadgets. We don’t need all this stuff to survive, and we certainly don’t need it to be happy. Sure, having these things is nice - it’s convenient to have a working phone, and my mother really missed the microwave - but hey, we don’t need all that stuff. The issue with our society is so much is centered on material goods that we lose sight of what really matters. Life isn’t about money or material objects. Holidays aren’t about gifts. It’s all about the time spent with loved ones and the memories made. Maybe it’s singing Christmas carols. Maybe it’s gathering around the tree and watching the faces of the little ones light up as they see that Santa came and ate all the cookies. Maybe it’s listening to Grandpa tell stories. Whatever it may be, you’ll remember it for the rest of your life. When asked what I was grateful for this Thanksgiving, I thought about it for a long time. I finally said, “Life, Laughter, and Love. You don’t really need anything else.” The look I received was a strange one, like the person didn’t understand. Maybe that’s our problem…





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