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My Year of Buying Nothing

That time I decided between butterscotch and scotch tape

By Lee Simpson

My Year of Buying Nothing (YBN) has posed some odd dilemmas in the past months, but none so “on one hand, on the other hand” as this. It’s a small thing but presses all the buttons of an ethical crisis. That’s why I throw myself on your counsel, wise readers.

Here’s some background: I am currently serving as contract clergy, taking over worship and pastoral care duties for an ill ministry colleague. My charge includes two seniors residences with adherents of the United Church. Inevitably, there are some for whom the toll of the years means few, if any, visitors other than me. So in addition to performing worship services in the little chapels, I drop in on our members in their rooms. I wear my “servant-shirt” and collar, signalling to fading memories who I am and what I’m about. We then say a prayer and sing a hymn or two. Actually, it’s fascinating how minds that are cruelly fogged in every other way retain the words of the hymnals of decades past.

Our congregations have also funded a stipend that permits me to arrive with a gift bag for those for whom these little presents have greater meaning. I have been using up my supplies of recycled wrapping and ribbon to decorate YBN-sanctioned tokens: cookies, diabetic-diet butterscotch and mints, as well as apples from our trees. I also offer a YBN-true card, made of construction paper, and bedecked with bow and the appropriate sentiment, “from all your friends at church.” This offering is multi-purpose, providing me an ice-breaker, and the recipient a treat and “proof of life.” It’s a reminder of rich and active years outside those walls. The cards are mounted on corkboard and — most touching of all — shown proudly to other residents as testimony to a past that has not forgotten them.

Still, as Christmas approaches, residence staff has suggested a shift in offerings. Could we buy wrapping paper, blank cards, stamps and scotch tape? Maybe small, potential gift items, beyond the senior’s ability to obtain but appreciated by other residents? A bar of fancy soap, bubble bath or talc? Hey, who could be churlish enough to say, “bah humbug?”

Today, my mother would be nearly 100 years old. Before her death a decade ago, she kept a supply of fancy paper and quality cards. She also re-gifted the scarves and earrings my sister and I gave her. We knew it and condoned it. That’s because Mum needed to show that the flag of generosity and abundance still flew. And who am I to deny this life-affirming pleasure to Mrs. Kittery, 101, who wants her distant great-granddaughter to open a pretty card from Nana?

“But it’s against my rules”, I wail. And getting the United Church Women to prep those gift packages instead smacks of holier-than-thou hypocrisy of the highest order. Don’t worry, though; I am not seriously considering tucking a sermon on paper waste and the environmental hazards of paraben in our senior’s Christmas stockings this year. So feel free to forward your brilliant ideas to Ms. Scrooge!

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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