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My Year of Buying Nothing

That time my car broke down

By Lee Simpson


Is there anything more seductive than the promise of an empty notebook? I have a journal to make notes for this blog. It is a gift and quite elegant — just the right size to tuck in my otherwise empty handbag. During Christmas, I was elated with the thought of filling it with records of my small sacrifices and spiritual triumphs, and of overcoming the temptations of our overheated consumer society!

Yeah, right, not so much. I have been brought down — not at the first hurdle, exactly — but well within the first round.

Early January was easy. If fact, the period between the merry chaos of Christmas and the peace of Epiphany is always cathartic. It’s a relief to give up eggnog, fudge and sausage stuffing in the week after holiday feasts. It’s cleansing to return one’s living room to a more monastic simplicity after the steady gluttony-for-the-eyes of tinsel, lights and sparkly ornaments.

In that spirit, it was a breeze to grocery shop for only food, and “green,” local, healthy food at that. The temptations of the end-aisle display, with those cute sets of bath bubbles and talc on post-holiday sale, hardly slowed me at all. The lure of 50 percent off Christmas cards was as faint as a half-heard carol and as easy to ignore. In short, I felt smug as I bulk bought organic broccoli to freeze as an accompaniment to all that turkey stashed at home. Turkey Divan was invented as a chastening reminder that Christmas is truly past!

The beginning of the workweek brought a full agenda. My husband, Paul, had two new classes to teach at the university. I was committed to a church-related speaking engagement that required a meeting. Because one of my commitments to my Year of Buying Nothing (YBN) is to stick to “shared” travel, such as buses or cars with multiple passengers, I was pleased when my daughter offered me a lift as she headed to work. We had plenty of time to travel eight miles, even in traffic.

During the first mile, however, we heard an ominous sound but studiously ignored it. During the second mile, we reassured each other that the noise was “probably the muffler” — something that could be ignored for months by non-mechanical types. While we drove the third mile, the car listed to one side and made frightening grinding noises. We quickly pulled over and gazed at what was clearly a flat tire: we had been riding on the rim all along. My daughter then phoned for a tow and let her office know that she was going to be late.

And to think that I was merely five miles and 10 minutes from that meeting. No time for the bus, even if I knew which one to catch. Do I phone and announce to a roomful of good church volunteers that I have to re-schedule? Or do I put common sense and courtesy to others ahead of my YBN rule of “no taxis?”

And, that, dear blog reader, is how I learned that this year is going to be harder than it looked. That is how I reminded myself that Proverbs 16:18 needs to be writ large upon my heart: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

I blotted my copybook before the month was out, and I now leave it to you to determine whether the cause was worthy.


Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.
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