Do you really need that?

I’m the atypical American, I suppose you could say. I’ve spent the majority of the last 23 years living and working overseas. It’s had its perks for sure, mixed with a downside, but overall, I wouldn’t have traded all my experiences in Vietnam and Malaysia for anything. By having such a transient lifestyle, our family has purposefully not accumulated a lot of possessions over the years. Oh sure, we have stuff in storage (maybe too much) and we’ve done our fair share of supporting global capitalism through our many purchases and our Amazon Prime membership, but I must say, compared to the average American, we’ve haven’t accumulated much. That is, perhaps, one of the greatest perks of living overseas.

When we moved to Malaysia in 2006, we bought a bunch of furniture on arrival which we used, loved, wore-out, and then sold dirt cheap when we left. We went with little and left with little. I know some folks who move overseas ship their whole household belongings with them in a shipping container–sometimes cars included. Not for us. Maybe an overweight bag or two. There’s a freedom in being light on your feet and debt free.

What made me start thinking about this topic is that we recently moved to Saudi Arabia. In doing so, we shipped (aghast!) some items from Malaysia directly to our new country. Not a lot–two pallets worth including a bicycle, guitar, household items, souvenirs and knickknacks. As each day passes without the shipment arriving, I’m starting to wonder what we actually shipped after all, and what would happen if for some reason our shipment never arrived?

I do know what would happen. Nothing.

Life would continue. We would work, live, laugh, eat, and enjoy our lives just fine–even if I never saw any of those out of sight items ever again.

What does it mean that I have so little regard for the things I currently don’t have? I think it means that we place far too much emphasis and value on the things in our lives, even if we don’t have a lot. But ultimately, I’m not going to cry over a lost crock pot, pizza pan, or painting. In the grand scheme of things, that shipment, which is now in the Persian Gulf, has no bearing on my life.

Now that doesn’t mean I don’t want it to come. Of course not. The practical side of me doesn’t want to have to buy another crock pot. But I’m also not going to fret about the things I do or don’t have. I think it’s a freeing place to live.

Before your next purchase, let me ask you a question: do you really need that?



America in Decline? I Don’t See It.

I’ve been blessed with two months of blissful rest this summer. It’s been wonderful to reconnect with many family members I don’t have the opportunity to visit often. I’ve had the chance to eat some (too much, actually) some culinary delights which I didn’t get often in Asia. And I’ve had ample chances already, with still six weeks ahead of me, to enjoy the wonderful outdoors of an American northeastern summer. The weather has been cooler and wetter than usual, and that has led to week after week of wonderful brisk evening air, vivid green rolling hillsides, and enough fresh produce to make anyone smile. I grew up in America, yet I’m always amazed at what a unique and amazing place it really is. The talk of American decline doesn’t include the green countryside. I swear, there couldn’t be any more trees anywhere in the world than the country realms of Pennsylvania and New York. Endless, for hundreds of miles. Tremendous. No decline there.

The real people in America aren’t caught up in the nasty politics of the day. The banker I met today who helped my son open his first bank account didn’t care a lick about political persuasions or across the aisle name calling. The woman who duplicated two keys for me in her small locksmith shop didn’t bicker about Washington gridlock. We chatted, like human beings, acknowledging the strange indentations on my key. We thanked each other and parted. No decline there.

Streets are lined with businesses and opportunities that pop up over night. I passed a country farm house way in the New York farmlands where one person plopped a food trailer in front of his house, as isolated from humanity as it was, and plastered it with every fast food advertisement you could think of. You could get grilled sandwiches, burgers, dogs, drinks, ice cream, and many other kinds of typical American fare. He didn’t care about the outside world. He sought the passerbyers. It looks like he succeeded.

In my parents country neighborhood, gas company XTO has already drilled 5000 feet into the earth, creating horizontal drills at that depth for miles as they begin the many years process of fracturing the compressed shale and pump out the natural gas which is going to power America into the future. The company is buying up rights, paying out royalties, and is creating a buzz in the neighborhood that hasn’t been there since Western PA’s big oil push way back in the 1870-1890s. This tiny village hasn’t changed in 50 years, yet no signs of decline here.

Industries come and go. Stores close while others open. Kids grow up. Schools expand and then contract. Churches lose influence and shutter their doors, while new congregations rent mall space or other creative setting to nurture their fledgling congregation. Families enlarge. People move away. Some people find success while other soldier on through hard times. Students struggle between work and school. Some lose hope while others fight on to fulfill their dreams. Many will reach it. Others will settle into something rather unexpected and learn to like it.

Weekends will come and go. Elderly couples will kayak on the lake. Lines of cars will snap up the soft serve. Millions will go to ballgames, from Little League to wacky minor league fields to the majors. They’ll eat hotdogs, yell at the umpires, and chew the fat with their neighbors. Lawns will be mowed, home repairs started, and families will gather in reunions.

All of this happens without the media, without Congress, without the President, without any regard to any Supreme Court ruling, or without any concern about terrorism or foreign battle fields.  This all happens without racist overtones, identity politics, or rioting and looting outside the G20 meetings.

There may be real problems which need to be solved as this country moves into the future, but America is not in decline. It’s as vibrant, resilient, cocky yet tentative as always. It lives and dies with the cycle of life inhabited by its people during their daily routines. I’ve been watching these routines, and they are as hopeful as ever. The American dream is not dead because I’ve seen it alive again and again during these past two weeks. It’s as real as its always been, no thanks to any political parties in Washington.