Friday, April 6, 2012

The Luxury of Enough

I'm on the intercity bus right now. I'm traveling from Holland to Saginaw, spending less than I would on gas, dramatically more comfortable than if I were driving, and freed up to write this blog post on my laptop, plugged in to an outlet and connected to the complimentary WiFi. It'll take me a bit longer to get home - five hours instead of three by car - but that's five hours of my favorite sedentary activities (reading, writing, computer games, and naps) instead of three hours of operating stress-inducing heavy machinery.

I don't have a car, which means that my transportation expenses amount to exactly how much I spend on trains, buses, carpooling (gas money), and bike maintenance. On average, about thirty-five bucks a month. Usually I walk, giving me stress-relieving exercise and fresh air, and making it easier to fall asleep at night.

What's remarkable is that such luxurious transportation is the standard mode for America's poorest and most disabled. Not by choice, but by necessity. For some reason almost anyone with a choice shells out huge portions of his paycheck on insurance, gas money, maintenance, and other costs to drive a personal car, which is more stressful and less healthy.

Likewise countless affluent people shell out more money on bigger homes which cost more to heat, cool and maintain; take longer to clean; and often cost extra time and money to drive to and from. It's a losing scenario all the way around. In order to pay for cars and houses, people work longer hours than necessary at jobs farther away than necessary which are often unnecessarily unsatisfying.

The problem is that deep down we think economically. We assume joy is something you earn - by hard work, careful planning, and some measure of moral superiority. Money-making and money-spending are another kind of self-justification. But joy, like grace, is a gift, and to experience it we need only to learn to see it. Joy is not a rare and striking flower. It's the grass, abundant and everywhere, whose beauty we seldom notice.

And so, recognizing joy, we need not strain ourselves by jumping through ever-higher financial hoops, thinking we can somehow earn happiness or prove our value to God. Joy is as spacious and free as the early morning. We can rejoice in the liberating luxury of enough.