The older I get the more I appreciate those things that I cannot buy. Time spent with family, creating a garden, or gathering with my community: these are not commodities. These are experiences that do not happen because of a transaction, and no receipt can be exchanged. No credit card or roll of cash can make those things that only time and nurture can create. The Good Life is rarely transactional, it is most often relational, and there’s a challenge in that.
The Christian contemplative Thomas Merton said, “There are some people who never see a tree until they are ready to saw it down. And they never see themselves except as a commodity to be used.” When we live transactionally in our world and towards others, our view of them, and ourselves, narrows. When we think others only exist to either get out of our way, or to pave the way for our ambitions, then we miss what is possible in our community. We may even miss out on the Good Life being offered to us. Even more tragic, perhaps, is that we see ourselves as a commodity. Our lives are understood as something to be used up, spent on passing pursuits, and then we are done and over. This one good and beautiful life we’ve been given is surely much more than that, but maybe it takes a new way to see what we, and others, are worth.
People are precious. Your life is precious and being human is a gift, not a commodity. We are free to live another way, and a way that makes us creators of a life that looks more like a growing garden full of fruit, than a saw-mill using up what has grown around us. We can nurture something that thrives, rather than use ourselves and others.
Recently my daughter got a few ‘Pokemon’ cards from a friend at school. She was excited to have a little collection. So, being the good dad that I am sometimes, I went to a hobby store and asked the person there for a little box that she could put her few card into. The lady said, “wait, I have something better,” and she reached behind the counter and rummaged through some piles of. After a few minutes she emerged with a box full to the brim with about a thousand of these cards inside. “you can have it, my gift to you,” she said. My daughter was thrilled. When I asked why she was so happy, she said it’s because now SHE could give cards to friends. In her eyes having a vast new collection of cards was secondary, instead she had a new way to be a friend. Who would guess that silly little trading cards would carry so much wisdom.
Philosopher Paul Ricoeur wrote that, “one does not have a neighbour; I make myself someone’s neighbour.” There is wisdom in this. The people around us are precious and we can become neighbours to them. Even better, we can make ourselves a neighbour to them. We can use what we have and live generously, and immensely open-handedly with those around us. If you have a home, a lawn, a BBQ or a crock-pot, you have more than enough to become a neighbour. This summer may you make yourself a neighbour, you may find that in doing so, you’ll have far more than money can buy.