Monday, December 7, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

Not too long ago, as I was doing my weekly quick stop at Costco, I was reminded of a story the Baron told me about one of his friends, Igor.

At the time of their meeting, both Igor and the Baron worked night shifts, so would often run into each other at the gym during the day. They struck up a fast friendship, and would spend many an afternoon swapping funny stories.

The one that made the most impact on me was the one where Igor and his brother, both recent Russian immigrants, took their first shopping trip to Safeway. Armed with a camera, they were going to document their first trip to a North American grocery store.

What they didn't expect, upon entering, was the size of the store and its sheer volume of product. Igor told my husband that when he and his brother stood in the Produce Department, they were at first confused. They asked one of the stock clerks, "Who is all of this for?"

"I don't understand your question - what do you mean, who is it for?"

"Is it for some visiting dignitary?" "Is it for special people? Government officials?"

Shrugged the clerk, "No, man. It's for anyone."

"Like us?", said Igor's brother, hesitantly.

"Yeah, anybody."

And it was here, in the middle of a suburban Safeway, that two huge bodybuilders stood, taking photos and weeping.

Overcome with joy, at the abundance for them - for anybody - laid out in row upon row upon row of perfect little pyramids.

And it is this feeling of being overwhelmed that hits me amongst the aisles of Costco.

There is so much stuff.

Anywhere I go lately, I am both amazed and appalled at all the stuff. Stuff stacked, floor to ceiling. Clothes that show up for 3 weeks, and then are completed replaced with new stuff. Produce, beginning to go bad because there's too much of it. Warehouses full. Of stuff. Do we really need all of this stuff? Is there truly, actually a need for all of this stuff?

It is an embarrassment of riches, and one that most of us take for granted each and every day.

I'm quite sure that I will not be asking the most popular question of the season, given it is the season of stuff, but here goes - is there something out there, intangible, unstackable, unchanging - valuable - that could be given instead of stuff? Instead of the obligatory oh-my-god-they-got-something-for-us-now-we-have-to-get-something-for-them stuff?

A kind word? A hug? A meaningful, thought-out gesture? Something to actually benefit someone's life?

I know, I know - revolutionary stuff, and not the sort of thing a child wants to find under the tree.

It is all of this stuff we somehow feel entitled to (yet also feel the need to complain about concurrently) that has finally begun to really stick in my craw.

It's also the gist behind the brilliant new ad campaign for one of our local not-for-profit organizations, the Union Gospel Mission. In the campaign are single portraits of regular people - no glitz, no glam - just them against a white backdrop. They could be a neighbor, a work colleague, a bus mate. They could be Igor or his brother.

Above each photo is their "wish" for the holidays:

"I wish I got more junk mail" Toni M.*

"I wish I got a parking ticket" Kevin K*

"I wish my latte was lukewarm" Prem P.*

"I wish I spent all day at the mall" Jemal D.*

"I wish my in-laws were coming over for Christmas" John R.*

"I wish my yoga class was overcrowded" Jolene D.*

"I wish I was stuck in traffic" Les H.*

Be careful what you complain about - it could very well be what someone else wished they had to complain about.

And at this time of giving, try to give a thought to giving a real gift.

Because stuff is just stuff.

* Les', Jolene's, John's, Jemal's, Prem's, Kevin's and Toni's 'I wish' stories can be found here; they have each triumphed over struggles with their personal adversities.

They are living, breathing testimonies - to their strength of spirit and to the opportunities that can arise when kindness meets despair.

Thanks to Kevan of UGM for kindly sending the link along.


Countess of YY said...

On my way to take my extra stuff (ie shampoo, conditioner, soap and the like)to the community action council as this traveling b has accumulated a good supply and I am giving to those who can use it. Next I am going through my sheets towels and blankets as the counts sisters are working with a group that help families with housing..we all have way to much stuff and I could sit on the board of this club...I am learning to let go

These Nine Acres said...

Great post for the season. Thanks for keeping it real.

Kevan G. said...

Fantastic story about the weeping Russian bodybuilders. Love it!

I'm really glad you liked the UGM campaign. The UGM website has more stories about the people featured in each ad -- they've lived some amazing lives. Plus, you can also view the Christmas Catalogue: gift ideas counteract all the "stuff" you're so articulately lamenting. (I'm part of the team that works at UGM.)

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

It's so true.

For me, the most embarassing thing is the aisles and aisles ( never mind the stores) devoted to pet food. It's insane.

Don't get me wrong - I love pets just as much as the next person, but it should not take me 15 minutes to figure out whether I should get wet or dry, raw hide or biscuits, stainless steal feeding bowls or a cat condo.

Your point is very well taken and is one of the primary reasons I moved back here from the city. AS of now there are no chain stores and shopping frenzies, and hopefully it will stay that way for some time to come.

wv=majoy. Majoy comes in living away from all the madness.

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