In central Pennsylvania, many farms spread out in valleys surrounded by the Appalachian mountains, are kept by Amish families. The Amish tend their fields without modern implements and technology and live simple, family and community centered lives.Horses and mules can be seen working the farms. Buggies travel the roads. Clothes made at home hang out lines, blowing in the wind. The Amish do not live modern, material lives. Their only embrace of abundance is in their large families with an average of seven children in a household. They form close knit communites where devotion and cooperation are the norm.
The Sisters of Mercy have a retirement center in another part of Pennsylvania. There we visit my cousin, Sister Rosemary Budd, who is a remarkable woman. Being with her is pure joy. In a different way, she too lives a simple life. Years ago, when she was living in a small corner room at the Center, she was offered a larger space and turned it down. “Why would I need it?” All of her wordly possessions fit into her small space. And when anyone gives her something, she passes it on. I marvel. Compared to her, I am a “material girl” just as surely as Madonna.This all gives me pause as I sit here at my computer with cell phone by my side enjoying the decorations that surround me along with a stereo and television set (though the TV is not working now, causing pangs of withdrawal in me that I hope will improve as time goes on.)
I am aware that many people around the world live simple lives, not as a religious heritage or choice, but because they are poor by financial standards. Some of them in central PA.
I contemplate these things and come to the conclusion that I am not called to a simple life. In all honesty, I admit that I do not desire such a life. I collect things. I am not in any sense a hoarder, nor am I wealthy. But, by this time in my life, I appreciate the “things” that remind me of the people in my life and the places I have been: the books I have read, the music I listen to, the pictures I have taken. I enjoy them and I wish a middle class life for all who would choose it if they could.
On the other hand, I grew up with a mother who went through two Depressions, one in Germany and one in the United States. I learned not to waste things. I am one of those people who use tin foil several times and can’t stand to throw food away. In spite of my attraction to material things, and being a “city girl” most of the year, I am a conservationist. I love our natural world and resonate with the need to protect the environment. I believe those who raise red flags about our despoiling the earth for future generations.
We can learn much about life and values from those who embrace a simple life. We can all live more simply with more respect for one another and the good earth that sustains us. In our technological age, we can try to keep grounded in basic reality. We are all more than thinking heads or chasers of wealth. We have finite bodies that are dependent on this planet and other co-inhabitants for survival. And, from my perspective, we have spirits that are entwined with a greater Spirit for perspective, meaning and love.