Ashes

" … we might just might be pretty much plenty just as we are …"

I fancy myself as having been raised right. Not that I experienced a care-free upbringing, more that I was blessed with parents who steadfastly refused to care very much about how I felt. My mom especially seemed to take a certain delight when denying my wishes. Like yours, my folks were just kids when I was small, still learning their way into their role, so we experienced a certain equality within our inexperience. Some kids could pout and get their way. Pouting around our place could be grounds for an even more gleeful denial than usual. I hail from a Like It Or Lump It family. I learned early to do without.

These skills have served me extremely well.
They've enabled me to sleep soundly on hard floors and to miss some meals without pleading a Federal case over it. Perhaps most important, I learned early that I was not then nor was I ever likely to become the center of any known universe. This training imparted a base ego-lessness, which has at times left me feeling like the richest man in the vicinity. I could just say, "No!" without feeling like I carved away a piece of my heart. I usually figured that I was the one who could afford to do without. I felt few true needs, and I liked my life that way.

I ran into a succession of self-built brick walls, too, struggling to determine what might qualify as a genuine need. I could deny myself to my own detriment sometimes. I could sacrifice unnecessarily. I would occasionally stumble into temporary martyrdom, a state in which I felt warmly at home. My mom would speak of herself as "little old me," a description I always suspected came passed down from the adoration of many prior generations of social conditioning. In an era characterized as egregious ego gratification, I think of myself as largely a non-combatant. I probably think more harshly than most in the presence of overt self-gratification. No gold bathroom fixtures for little old me.

I'm no Catholic, but I warmly welcome Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the lenten season, the annual celebration of doing without. Ashes to ashes serves as a fine reinforcement for the sacred seventh sense my parents early instilled in me. A season where giving cuts in line seems just fine, where missing a meal serves as a sort of holy sacrement, where deferring gratification comes into its own. The Muse regularly accuses me of wearing sackcloth. I plead with her to mend my Carhartts' fraying cuffs. She implores me to just go buy new, but those might set me back thirty of forty bucks each, and a fraying cuff hardly disables the garment's warming capability. I'd rather do without, so I do. Call me a sackcloth snob, but I feel richer wearing familiar rags than wearing in fresh fabric.

Those of us who were raised right hold no special place here, but I find myself needing to reign in a certain better-than-thou arrogance I sometimes recognize in myself. I see a fancy car and internally pride myself for my ability to get along without that Tesla. I secretly wonder how some people (those people!) permit themselves their extravagances, and I question their self discipline and thereby elevate my own, though my variety requires little volition. Hammered into my adolescent acquisitiveness until it just let go, I more easily default to letting go of my more venial desires. I cannot bring myself to wanting extravagance. I decline the invitation to visit some fancy restaurant and genuinely prefer to sit in the nosebleed seats. I suppose this inbred ability qualifies as a blessing or a curse, but I sometimes shame myself for taking such pride in it.

I firmly believe that the person who deflects the most desires, not the one who accumulates the most toys, wins. I think of possessions as more burden than conveyance, with the notable exception of books, which seem to effortlessly transport me. But even with books, I much prefer used or borrowed ones to crisp new boughten ones. At university, I chose the well-used textbooks, the ones where someone had thoughtfully already highlighted the significant passages for my convenience. The Muse dumpster dives much better than I, scouring the Goodwill with impunity, almost always finding some discarded treasure to enhance our home, which looks more like a second-hand store than the genuine Villa it most certainly is.

Small omissions make huge differences. Two weeks ago, while we making our usual larder-stocking rounds, The Muse suggested that perhaps we only needed one red trout filet rather than the usual two. Weighed out, the filet barely managed a half pound, but I agreed. We discovered that half a filet enhanced the accompanying salad and sides, and reliably produced no leftovers. We reinforced the viability of this fresh doing without last night, accompanying that scant trout with avocado, a garnish thereby raised to entree class. We dined like royalty while doing without. May this fresh, sorely needed season of scarcity reassure the best of us that we might just might be pretty much plenty just as we are, hardly needing half of what we want, fully capable of doing without and finding our Earthly rewards therein. Amen.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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