Home > Life, Really? > Living Outside of the Box

Living Outside of the Box

September 16, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

sure1I sometimes wonder how I have all that I do.

I’ve done nothing to deserve it, little to earn it, yet I am wealthy beyond my wildest dreams and always have been.

And I dare to wonder why…. I ought to have my ass kicked by the powers that be, in the same way that my dad used to glare at me when I asked a question that pushed a button….”Don’t ever ask me that!”

I live a charmed life. I still haven’t quite taken advantage of my calling (assuming that I’ve found it) yet I have a considerable roof over my head, friends and family who profess to love me, money enough in the bank to take care of my few wants and needs, and I still have the audacity to ask why.

When I was a kid, I used to joke that I wanted to be a bag lady someday. That was a euphemism at the time to describe someone who spent her days on a park bench surrounded by pigeons and occasionally covered with newspapers or a big box when the temperature dropped. She filled her days by watching the comings and goings of passersby, muttering to herself just enough to keep people at a distance, but taking in all that happens in her world.

I have yet to sleep on a park bench, but I do spend my days watching the comings and goings of those around me. I’ve slept on hay bales in a barn and even lived out of my car a couple of times. These days, I have a choice of several beds and couches, plus a screened-in lanai where I could lie comfortably awake and listen to the chorus of frogs in the pond out in back if I chose, free from bugs and snakes and squirrels. It seems someone has intervened on my behalf…

But really, I have a freakishly comfortable life. I even have health insurance and a 3-car garage — with 3 cars in it.

Even so, I still get to wondering why I’m so lucky when others seem not to be. All my life I’ve been told that only hard work will get you to the top. I don’t feel like I’ve worked terribly hard, yet it seems like I’ve already reached the top… Are my standards too low or is the top a relative place?

In hindsight I consider one of the best things that ever happened to me to be the circumstances that required my family to relocate to New Hampshire from wealthy suburban Long Island when I was a kid.

I would never have chosen for my father to have a nearly life-ending heart attack, nor would I have wanted to leave behind my budding career as a concert cellist, nor my future as the first female professional baseball player. Nothing that happened to me at age 11-ish was on my list of what I wanted when I grew up.

Instead, we moved to a farm, and in addition to being necessary, barn cleaning became a form of entertainment for me. My olfactory system still holds as its #1 most disgusting smell the odor of an indoor pig sty in the several weeks after a new litter of piglets was birthed. I scooped and scraped and sprayed and sawdusted the 8′ by 8′ space that housed the swine, then the calves, then whatever group of young the farm produced that would eventually provide our sustenance. I’ve never worked harder in my life at providing for my survival.

I think that’s where it happened. I think that’s where my standards and expectations were formed: Any of us could lose everything in a misplaced heartbeat, and any day that wasn’t “shin-deep-in-shit” had to be pretty good.

Without my years in New Hampshire I wouldn’t have learned the sense of self-reliance I have now. I’m definitely not street-smart — more like, dirt-road-smart — but I could feed myself from the earth if I had to. I’d be willing to give up what I have for the sake of someone who has less, knowing that they will find a reason to carry on till the day when they can repay the favor. I can sleep on any surface, especially after a long day of providing for myself.

So, the ease of my life today, while it may seem “comfortable” to some, solidly middle-class, to me is palatial. I’d lived in nice houses in my early years, usually provided by the church in lieu of cash for my dad’s pay, but I shared them with many, many family members.

The house I live in now, though fairly modest by current Florida standards, is so much more than the park bench I’d imagined, and far roomier than the refrigerator box I thought would be sufficient. Ten people could probably share this home comfortably, safe from the world outside, yet it houses only two. ONLY two…

I have it all…. so why do I feel like my spirit is still living “inside of the box”?

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Categories: Life, Really?
  1. September 16, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    It’s great that you appreciate what you have. Most don’t until/unless it’s gone. But even if we feel like we have everything, there’s a small part of us that still wants something more… and it might not be material. Maybe that’s why your spirit is still in the box. We can be satisfied with our posessions, but satisfaction with life is harder to come by.

    I love the expression “dirt-road smart”. I think I’ll have to pull that one out from time to time.

  2. donna toulouse
    September 16, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    ELLEN, WHAT AN INTERESTING ARTICLE.YOU ARE BORN TO BE A WRITER.YOUR INSIGHT ON LIFE IS INSPIRING TO ME AT AGE 66 !!!I NEEDED THAT AS I HAVE BEEN TOTALLY DOWN SINCE SURGERY AND LOST ALL MY CONFIDENCE AND AM SCARED AT WHATS NEXT???I LOOK AT LIFE DIFFERENT NOW AND BELIEVE ME JOHN AND I HAVE BEEN THROUGH IT ALL.PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES LEFT TO EAT TO GETTING HELP.I CANNOT BELIEVE WHAT WE HAVE BEEN DEALT BUT I GUESS ITS TRUE GOD GIVES US NO MORE THAN WE CAN HANDLE. YOU ARE AN INSPIRING TO ME AND A WONDERFUL PERSON. TRY TO KEEP IN TOUCH. HUGS DONNA T

  3. Jennifer
    September 16, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I always look forward to your writings. They really make me think and look at things a little differently. I work with little kids all day so I look forward to the mental stimulation!

  4. Mel G
    September 16, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I thank you for always making me think. This article has both given me pause about my current life and made me hope for the future.
    And those of us don’t “profess” to love you. At least speaking for myself, we do.
    One of these days Jason & I are going to take you up on your offer and come visit. How’s February? *grin*

  5. CherylZ
    September 16, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Well, looking at my peanut butter and jelly sandwich (’cause that’s what’s left) I am also counting my blessings, on some level. With Frank out of work for more than a year, we’re at rock bottom but still I know that I am blessed and that this, too, shall pass. It’s really hard to go through, though, sitting in my sweet little house in Fairfield, CT and wondering if I’m just a big phony and should be in the refrigerator box (brings to mind Dad’s teasing of many, many years ago). Thanks for your always thought-provoking writing!

  6. September 16, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    No matter what I have or don’t have in this world, nothing will be more valuable to me than the words, “You make me think….” Thanks for filling my coffers, people!

  7. Annette
    September 16, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    You were definitely “born to write”…I just LOVE your articles and postings. I’m either LMAO or given a much needed “reality check”…thanks for being YOU and blessing us with your writing!

  8. Ted E. Kinson
    September 16, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    You are making me think again, Ellen. I just read this and took a walk around the entire inside of our little 138 year old, Annual Home Improvement Box. The children have left our Box, and gone off to improve their lives with the “Dirt Road Smarts” we have provided them. Now it is empty and silent, save for a car going by every now and then. I am truly thankful for the place we have called home for twenty years. Sorry if I coined your phrases but they fit in so neatly, snicker.

  9. Cheryl
    September 17, 2009 at 12:56 am

    Ellen, we all LOVE you dearly and look forward to your insight. You never fail to amaze me on this blog.

    I’ve been itching to live more simply, and I guess I do to a certain extent, but there’s always more (a lot more!) that I can do in that direction. I heard a man on NHPR today talking about how our lifestyle is not only bad for the planet, but doesn’t bring us happiness. That really hit home, I mean I’m ridiculously happy in my relationships, love my happy home and I enjoy my job–don’t get me wrong, life is good. It’s just that I understand he means a “bigger” meaning of being happy, down deep in our souls. I guess it is a spiritual happiness. He’s a bit extreme for me, I’m not into extremists of any sort, but I thought you might find his blog interesting.

    http://noimpactman.typepad.com
    /blog/try_this_ecoresources/

    As always, thank you for your musings.

  10. Tom
    September 21, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    An awesome piece of spiritual writing – to recognize grace. America has become a self-congratulating society, patting itself on the back at the point of success, meanwhile throwing disgusted glares at the down-and-the-out for their moral failures to achieve success.

    Self-congratulations is emotionally unhealthy, for we all know it’s not true. So we just have to shout louder and grow more cranky and self-serving to prop up the falsehood even as we turn a deaf ear to the whispers of grace all around us.

    Paul the Apostle wrote: “I worked harder than all of them, but it wasn’t me, it was God.” It’s a strange partnership, we and grace, and those who live honestly will see that the lion’s share of thanks goes to grace.

  11. September 22, 2009 at 1:46 am

    A brave, honest, thought-provoking piece Ellen. Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing it.

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