I just got back from a small load grocery trip, to make my husband some tacos. I get all excited about the possibilities--the avocado, the cilantro, the lime, those flavors melded together. Makes me think of my favorite Mexican restaurant in town, owned and operated by immigrants who are now newly populating our area--of the humble simplicity of the food, the pride with which it is presented. Makes me also think of the little faces of children in the after school tutoring program, awaiting parents’ arrival from the chicken factories, fidgeting grimy shoes and smoothing well-worn skirts, hungry for their simple snack of a cookie.
What struck me as I wandered the aisles was not so much the sharp pain in my back from sitting at work for too long, but the endless variety and choices that lay before me. To make this simple and humble meal, I had two choices of avocado, four choices of onions, mounds of cilantro and limes green as a summer field--in the dead of winter. I had something like ten different kinds of tortilla chips to choose from, loads of salsa in all manner of flavors (I was tempted by peach, and perhaps the tomatillo). Each time I went for a simple ingredient, I was met by a bevy of choices. It occurred to me, while I stood in the aisle deliberating chips, that in America, sometimes, we have too many choices, and not enough mindfulness to see two things: that we have an overabundance of blessings and that, given different circumstances, we would not have access to such abundance, never mind being able to afford it. I said a little prayer of thanks, but I walked away with my bag of chips considering what it might mean to someone caught in a disaster like that of Haiti, or another woman, my age, struggling to feed her family elsewhere in the world.
This thought is not a matter of guilt--it occurred to me as a matter of mindfulness. In what ways can we live simply--truly simply? I have aimed to live simply and am both confounded by this at times and proud at once. There are days when I wish I didn’t live in just 900 square feet, but at the same time am glad I downsized ninety percent of my possessions to live in a different way; when I lament, I remind myself that some people don’t have much more than the space of a box to shelter them, or perhaps cannot afford any longer to stay in the place they do have. We all have our moments of wondering about blessings, but in the end, can we see them as they are?
Simplicity--living it AND understanding it--is not so easy when abundance reigns around us and the call of excess rather than that of simplicity is too loud to allow for contemplation over the many and various ways we human beings make our way in the world. There were many who made my meal tonight possible, both near and far--their livelihood I hope protected for them so that they may feed their families. As I prepare what I thought would be a simple meal, I’ll think of them, and continue to cultivate in myself--and perhaps in you, my dear reader, a desire for simplicity. Our faith builds on that--the small things, as Mother Theresa said, that we can do with great love.