Unexpectedly this weekend, I bought a new car. My old car had been through ten and half years of mistreatment and neglect from me. It drove me on countless trips to and from remote Kansas towns for court hearings. It was rarely ever cleaned. It survived my first born's abuse. And after taking us safely to a little weekend getaway trip destination on Friday, it died. Poor thing was not worth the money to fix it. I don't speak car or anything mechanical really. But I do understand simple math and simply put, I had to put it to rest. And I just have to say thank you as that car was the most reliable little car over those 140,000 (ish) miles anyone could have asked for. It never left me stranded on the side of a highway or refused to start in the cold. It just drove endlessly and for that, I am forever grateful.
We all know that things are just things. The clothes you buy today are out of style tomorrow. My new car will someday get used up and go the way of my last car. My furniture will wear out. Even my beautiful jewelry, which is so precious to me, will someday be given to my kids or grandkids or other family members.
I have tried my whole life to work hard and buy things that are a good deal. I try to spend money on people, on memories and on experiences. For example, I recently spent an obscene amount of money taking my 3 year old son to the Broadway production of the Lion King. Our tickets were front and center and yes, it hurt the pocketbook to buy them. But I will never forget his open mouthed awe at the opening number. His excitement and rapt attention during the entire 3 hour musical is a memory I will always cherish (I never thought we'd make it through the whole thing).
And yet, despite my honest attempts to focus on memories and not things, I cannot help but become attached to stuff. I honestly struggled to leave my car behind. In my head, my little blue Saturn was devastated that I would rather dump it than fix it and let it come home with me. Yes, I know. It's a thing. It's metal and plastic and grey fuzzy carpet. It doesn't have feelings other than those I assign to it. And my feelings for that car are more related to the feelings it evokes. My first car ever purchased with my own money. The car I drove to countless hearings, only to have clients and other people comment on what it must mean that their lawyer drives a Saturn (and not a fancy luxury vehicle). The car that I took on countless trips (running and otherwise) with the husband and friends--Vail, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Kansas City (probably 300 times) and many other destinations I can't recall. So memories of those things and the feelings about that chapter of my life are all tied in to the car itself.
I place far too much value in clothes and purses and gadgets and stuff. I covet the next best thing, whatever that may be. It's difficult for me not to in our culture and society. I have an iPhone 4. And it's magical. But now, see there's this iPhone 5...but I try. I make a conscious effort not to be driven by STUFF or THINGS but to be inspired by PEOPLE and EXPERIENCES. No purse in the world can replicate the feelings and views of sitting on the side of a mountain and just sucking in your breath because the views are so fantastic. (Okay, maybe a Hermes Birkin, but I can't know that because the Birkin is still just a dream.)
And so I struggle. To be a person of depth and meaning. To spend money on books and vacations with friends and family. To recognize that physical stuff is transient. And yet, this morning, my little son asked whether or not we still had his bottle of apple juice left from this weekend. He told us that he wanted to drink the rest of the juice with breakfast and then keep the empty bottle FOREVER because it would help him remember his wonderful vacation with mommy and daddy. (We took a toddler focused "babymoon" and went a bunch of places that were all about him...when we were not buying a new car that is.)
We laughed a little. How SILLY! Keeping a bottle of apple juice that you bought at the bagel shop to remember a vacation by? But then it hit me. He was assigning the same importance to that empty apple juice bottle that I was assigning to a broken down 10 year old car. It wasn't just a plastic bottle, it was his last trip with mom and dad as an only child. And so we assign value to things because simply put, it cannot be helped and it's how our brains work. That necklace isn't just a necklace. It's the first gift I ever received from my boyfriend (who would later become my fiance and then my husband and then the father of my children) who took a lot of time to pick it out and spent money he didn't have all to match it to a bracelet I had. That purse is not just a purse. It's a statement that I am successful and I have done what it takes to reach a certain level of success.
It's a very tenuous line. The innocence of keeping an apple juice bottle as a souvenir is the best way to remain connected to the very disposable stuff in our life. The problem comes in projecting too much on to the things and expecting anything in return from them. I know that a new purse won't fix my problems but doesn't the temporary buzz of unwrapping it, all shiny and new, help suspend life's hiccups for a bit? A car is still just a way to get from point to point and yet, I'm already projecting a lot on to my new car because it's my "mommy" vehicle, complete with a third row of seating.
And then there's the reality that I work hard. And I believe that I should be rewarded for my hard work once in a while. So with all of that, I attempt to live a philosophy that is based on honesty with myself about what things can give me. Stuff can be a lot of fun and reminders of wonderful memories. Stuff is mostly necessary as we need houses to live in and clothes to wear to work and cars to drive us to where we have to go. I struggle but I try to remember that the new shiny fun thing is just that. It is fun and shiny and new. I am not bad for enjoying that which is shiny and new. It can't solve my problems or make me laugh a big belly laugh the way a good joke or a witty remark can. It can't make me feel warm and loved the way a hug from someone I care about or a compliment can. I cannot assign more to that object other than simple enjoyment for being what it is. Because that is where I get into trouble...when I expect a thing to be the answer to my problem or in and of itself provide happiness.
And so with a heavy heart, I must say goodbye dear Saturn. You and the memories that go with you are cherished. Thank you, again, for never dying on the side of a busy highway in rush hour in the winter, leaving me to walk miles in high heels or some other such fate worse than death. And thank you, again, for transporting me and my family countless times over countless miles. I'll never forget you...or rather, I'll never forget my twenties and early thirties. Because really, that's what you are is a symbol of that time. Cheers.