I use way too many paper towels. Last spring, I house-sat for a lady who is a committed eco-friend. I am not. I am probably more in the camp that wears the “love my planet Earth” t-shirts. I know that’s kind of embarrassing and I’m working on not falling into trends quite so readily. Marketer’s dream: yours truly. For what it’s worth, I haven’t actually bought any of those t-shirts or the tote-bags pictured below, I just think they’re cute sometimes.
Anyways, this gentle friend of the Earth used seventh generation cleaners, and didn’t have cutsey note-pads, but most of all she didn’t have any paper towels in her kitchen. Not in her kitchen, not in her pantry, not in her bathroom, not in the mudroom ( I looked). Nope. No back up paper towels. Instead she had a basket of colorful hand towels that I grit my teeth to dirty, but then remembered oh yes, there IS a washing machine, and it IS just lemonade. All in all, her house was lovely and the dearth of paper towels made it all the lovelier.
Ever since then, I have paid more attention to the amount of paper towels I use and am embarrassed. Microwave a potato? Wrap it in a paper towel. No time to mop? Spray a little Clorox, swish around the paper towels with my foot ( you know you’ve done it too). Got two minutes? Spray the countertops and swipe ’em clean. Maybe I just need to calm down and not wipe things so much or something, but it’s kind of second nature. Regardless, I am spending way too much money on paper products and continue to give HEB grocery stores my livelihood in return for those little point coupons that amount to oh, three dollars.
So when I eat up these paper towel rolls, it makes me think about bigger and more abstract things (I’m totally normal, promise). As much as I try to be a good steward of the things that have been given to me, hence entrusted to me (yikes), and give back and share like we sang about in our pre-school performances, I am still an avid consumer. Of paper towels, yes. But of other things too. Of pretty and comfortable and illustrious things that do wonders for my ego so I might feel quite in control and quite in charge. Two news-flashes: a) I am not. b) Pretty, comfortable and illustrious is American code for debt and waste and consumption. Read: Anxiety.
Tricked? Are we all tricked into this grandiose business of striving but never actually arriving, all the while forgetting to empty out, breathe in and perhaps enjoy the view. Only then are we grounded, feet on the floor, eyes open wide and deep enough to receive the unspeakable joy that comes about in our awe and interest, serenity and curiosity, gratitude and love. The things that make us human, for crying out loud! Only then in great grace and wisdom, after we have opened up, can we give back. Cheerfully.
As I am writing, I am reminded of an anecdote that Kierkegaard uses to illustrate, well, something of much richer significance than the parallel I’m drawing, but I don’t remember his profound point. I just remember the story, and it went like this:
There was a man riding home in a carriage on a dark and cold night. In his little carriage he arranged pillows and lanterns so he might settle in comfortably and enjoy the ride. The burning lamps, however, made the stars dim, and it was a beautifully starry night. He didn’t see the stars.
Poor old man! He was occupied with lanterns and pillows rather than the star-show. His view was lacking. And his world stayed small.
Some people might say its okay, to be careful and stay safe, and keep gathering things around us, and do perfunctory things obsessively like use paper towels. And maybe it is just okay. Promise, no judgement. I totally would have nested my carriage like Kierkegaard’s friend. But life is miraculous, star-shows and all and like Wendell Berry says, can we please not give up on it? I’d rather sip out of a simple, cool and clear glass, trusting that it will in time run over again, instead of fretfully gulping down some scroungy mixture I know I can concoct whenever I need it. Hello, acid reflux.
So, here’s to paying attention in 2010. To what we use and what we grab and what we hoard. Are we full? Are we open? Are we gracious? Or, are we skrimping by with our three dollars worth of HEB points?
Look up! Look Down! Look All Around! There are star-shows. Promise.