Monday, November 3, 2008

Set Your Burden Down

Are you weary? Feeling low? Judith Freeman's op ed piece in the LA Times Sunday, An All Consuming American Fever, includes a graphic metaphor for why so many of us feel like we're dragging ourselves through life.

As Freeman hears again and again how we as American consumers need to "hang tough" because the world economy depends on our continuing to shop 'til we drop, an image pops into her head - an image I now can't get out of my head.

She sees "a great heard of donkeys so loaded down with goods that they're staggering beneath the weight."

But now, as she points out, we increasingly unable to keep up our role of "the world's beast of burden. The party is over and for many Americans it wasn't even much fun." We've been living beyond our carrying capacity. We have to cut back. We have to start shedding the goods that are weighing us down. We have to set our burden down.

Now there is an image I love! The image of us setting down the burden of having to have more and more and more. The image of taking a rest from our compulsion to buy. I love the thought of casting off the weight of our debt and cavorting about unencumbered.

Without seeing it quite in that light, that's what my husband and I were doing when we and our neighbors held a huge yard sale this past summer. That's why we've been tossing the deluge of catalogs that come in mail everyday into the recycle bin without browsing through them. That's why we no longer wander through the stores where we shop to see what all they have, but head instead strait toward the items we need and on to check out.

And that's why, after talking about it for several years but never actually doing it, we've let our friends and loved ones know that this year we won't be exchanging Christmas gifts. We are tired. We want to set our burden down.

We want to enjoy sharing time with each other, instead. Enjoy talking, laughing, exchanging ideas, doing activities and projects together. We want to be those donkeys cavorting unencumbered.

But Judith Freeman also touches indirectly on the fear that lurks in our national consciousness: what will happen if we don't all pick our burdens up again soon? What will happen if we stop shopping, shopping, shopping? Will the world really collapse?

Her closing question is a crucial one: "Can there be a different kind of engine to drive the world economy other than the endless, and often mindless, consumption of ordinary Americans?"

She says she's not holding her breath. I say she better not. I say we better not. Because we're the ones who need to create that different kind of engine. We're the ones who need to build a new engine based on living with what we need, enjoying what we have, making what we have last, using it up, taking care of it, making it do, and traveling light through life while contributing what we can to others and they to us in turn.

Over 100 communities in England and around the world are already doing just that. They're not holding their breath. They are rebuilding their communities as Transition Towns. Here's how the first Transition Town, Totnes, UK, describes what they're doing:

"This time brings a great opportunity for rethinking the way we live and making conscious choices about what kind of community and world we would like to live in. Change is coming whether we like it or not – and a planned response to the change will leave us in a much stronger position than if we wait until change is upon us."

If there isn't such a movement in your community yet, you can join with others and start one. Here's a link to what's underway in the USA.

Let's lay our burdens down. Let's get on with living instead of spending.

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