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My Year of Buying Nothing

That time of saying goodbye to a friend and hello to urban temptations

By Lee Simpson

My friend and I shared a name and enthusiasm for the open road. Lee knew that she was dying and made appropriate travel plans for that journey. What this childless, modest, single 70-year-old didn’t foresee was the outpouring of love and friendship. In her final weeks, people sent vast bouquets in addition to organizing deliveries of smoked meat from Montreal and boxes upon boxes of candy from places she had visited — from Nice to New Zealand. But at her request, presiding at her Celebration of Life service outside of Toronto was my gift.  

Lee’s budget — like my own this year — was tight: she was a thrifty and gutsy traveller. Recently, she spent six weeks in South America, patronizing only local buses, hostels and street food. She departed alone but rarely remained so. She made fast friends through a travel website forum, where we “met” and crossed barriers of language and geography to meet in person. Her touring bravado sprang from an absolute faith in the kinship of humanity. This self-deprecating high-school dropout and car dealership driver was not disappointed, counting among her circle architects, entrepreneurs, artists, professors, poets and doctors. She once spent the afternoon drinking iced tea with Phil of the Everley Brothers. In all, there were more than 200 present at her service and 624 fare-thee-well messages on the travel website.

Of course, getting to the memorial in another city required throwing myself on the mercy of others to avoid breaking my ‘Year of Buying Nothing’ rules.  I overnighted with a girlfriend in exchange for a homemade meal upon her return from work. I cajoled a colleague wanting a business meeting into driving me 80 kilometres to the service. I asked outright for a return ride; the confessional intimacy of that car — post-funeral — transformed acquaintanceship into the beginnings of deep friendship, which is the ultimate recycling act!

My enforced jaunt to downtown Toronto necessitated facing that double-edged sword of retail opportunity. I could acquire the gluten-free mix my celiac daughter favours. But this required visiting that kitchen emporium with a name like a California law firm: they clearly saw me coming. Getting to the flour meant bypassing groaning boards of glorious ceramic decanters, stacks of luscious linen tea towels and all of the newest appliances; sausage-making gizmos, milk-frothing thingies and gigantic silvery vats that create gelato in 30 seconds. And then, the kitchen cosmetics: liquids, foams and gels wafting lemon and lavender in bottles suitable to a Paris parfumieres. Get thee behind me, Satan of the soaps!

Bravely, however, I emerged with but a single bag of prosaic purpose. Lessons learned? Firstly and frivolously: the next time, steal a trick from an underage beer buyer and get a buddy to go in for you. More profoundly, whether it be your end days or simply when you are committed to a difficult path, simply lean on others. After all, there is a blessed benefit to admitting that you cannot do it all by yourself.

It is said that you die twice in this life: when you breathe your last and when your name is said for the final time. Well, this one’s for you, Lee Secor.

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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