Tuesday, February 14, 2006

California Dreaming

I’m in Pleasanton, California for six days for training related to work. Everything is clean, new and – in keeping with the name of the town – pleasant. I walked five miles tonight trying to find a small quiet restaurant to get a light meal and read a book. It’s Valentines Day and everything was full and people were waiting to be seated. Finally, I settled on a bookstore with a café. As I walked and searched for a quiet place, I thought about the twists and turns of my life.

I lived the first ten years of my life among the coal mines on the Virginia and West Virginia border. We heated with coal and had running water. My grandmother cooked with wood and did not have in-door plumbing. Each month we got a “light” bill rather than an electric bill because electricity was needed for lights and, perhaps, a radio. I remember my first encounters with a television, an escalator, a four-lane street and an electric doorbell. The concept of owning a house was unthinkable because, at an early age, I learned that “rich” people own houses and we weren’t rich. My father bought his first house when he was 52 and I was a senior in high school. He made the last house payment when he 72 – less than two weeks before he died.

Why do I feel uneasy being here in Pleasanton among so much affluence? The cost of this one week of training for me – fee, plane, hotel and meals -- is more than my father made in any year during his life.

I think I was blessed to be raised with nature and my needs being met rather than being raised with my wants met. I’m content and happy without affluence and things. That’s good. On the other hand, I think I’m handicapped in some ways because I find it difficult to support “progress”. Building, consuming, bigger and better leave me thinking “No, that doesn’t contribute to happiness. It detracts from contentment.” That makes me the odd person in conversations. I know others don’t want to hear continual objections about progress so, most of the time, I remain silent and listen. I don’t try to convince them of the correctness of my opinions because I’m not sure my opinions are correct. Perhaps affluence and things do bring true happiness to many or most people.

As I walked tonight, I watched the moon but it seemed muted compared to the city lights. I enjoyed the breeze but longed for the quiet of the country at home. Yesterday, I saw a hawk circling above a five-story building and thought how it seemed to be lost and out of its environment. This urban world feels alien and foreign but it’s home to more people than the countryside. Over fifty percent of the world lives in cities.

My life has taken twists and turns but I always find my way home. On Saturday I’ll be back to the rabbits, coyotes, antelope and birds. They may not be glad to see me, but I’ll certainly be happy to see them.

Perhaps the first few years of life are the most important. Perhaps those first ten years defined me for the rest of my life. Maybe it’s genetic and I need the quiet solitude of nature. Regardless, I am who I am and I don’t want to change. I’m content being me.

3 Comments:

Blogger Rob said...

"I'm content being me."

What a wonderful statement! That is where we all need to get to isn't it?

2/15/2006 04:40:00 AM  
Blogger The Michael said...

Despite all those hopes and dreams of things I'd do and places I'd see, I still ended up being just me. When I see those crowds in the big cities on TV I can't understand how people can be happy being little dots in a mass of humanity, running here and there pursuing nothing that seems to amount to anything. I'm much more comfortable with my elbow space, some land to nurture and enjoy, and none of the noise that comes with "progress". Great post, Paul!

2/15/2006 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger kathy said...

Rob said what i was thinking too! Great post!

2/15/2006 09:49:00 PM  

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