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My Year of Buying Nothing

That time of radical gratitude and raggedy flags

By Lee Simpson

My husband posted our welcome flag on the dock the other day. Did you know that sea captains of yesteryear would mount on the gatepost the pineapple that they brought from faraway isles? It indicated that they had finished with private greetings and were ready to receive. Our banner has seen better days, but unfortunately, being painted with a pineapple instead of actually being that traditional fruit of hospitality, it’s not edible and therefore not eligible for replacement in this Year of Buying Nothing (YBN).  

There have been a number of sacrifices as the months have gone by (nearly halfway there!). The oven mitts have to be worn at a certain angle in order to function. That stack of crisp, white, cotton hankies? Well, they are still cotton. And last weekend, I actually wore grey sports-socks instead of knee-highs with swanky flats to dinner: my mother would have had something to say about that!

It’s eye-opening just how far that feeling that you’re doing the right thing takes you. Self-righteousness isn’t exactly the emotion aroused, but I must caution myself against smugness from time to time. Among other discoveries, I’ve learned that there’s a fine line between feeling appropriately grateful and being full of ones’ ability to “use it up, wear it out; make it do or do without.” If I was dieting, I might call this “pride of hunger.” The sober truth is that there are many items we simply do not miss, like those elastic beige nylons. To get all high and mighty about doing without a new dishcloth or a fourth variety of shampoo is false pride.

The counterbalance is that there’s nothing like a little longing for what we want and cannot have to make us appreciative of what we’ve got. I have the privilege (among many) of claiming as a friend the remarkable Mary Jo Leddy, activist, theologian and author of Radical Gratitude. In this slim book is much wisdom, including this enlightening tale that I’ll paraphrase (I’ll utilize memory as someone borrowed my copy, the library’s is out and I can’t buy a new one until January!). Upon arrival at Romero House, the Leddy-inspired Toronto refuge for weary and broken immigrants, a young woman is visibly awed by the house tour. She points at a structure she spied from the kitchen window and inquires as to who lived there. “That’s the garage,” she is told. Seeing her puzzlement, the shelter worker explains the term. “A car lives in that beautiful house?” she blurts out in shocked tones.

I’m learning not to take the abundance in my life for granted. I’m deeply grateful to my husband and extended family’s extensive support of my eccentric enterprise, as they do without right alongside me. There is, however, nothing in this YBN preventing the most basic gifts of hospitality. For instance, I’m getting over the need for the house to be perfect for guests: our flag may be frayed but the welcome is just as warm as ever.

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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