What we need never changes

They’re cutting more trees down by my favorite grocery store and naming new gated neighborhoods after them.

The view of green is giving way to mounds of dirt and construction signs boasting: “Coming soon: new high-end retail shops.” And for the first time, I realize that I now care about these sorts of things in a new way. In the way that a person who is planting roots now cares about the ground they’re stuck in. Why do we need more high-end retail shops? I thought, like a crotchety old woman, driving past. Ten minutes that way or that way, there are a dozen more. Why couldn’t we just keep the forest right there? It’s much prettier than that parking lot.

But someone, somewhere, decided we needed it and it will be there and then we will shop there and not be able to imagine a world without it there — isn’t that how it works? I didn’t know I needed another Starbucks with a fountain next to a J Crew until it appeared.

I see the same thing in my children — how quickly they fall into devastation at the store when I tell them they don’t need something they just learned existed 2 minutes ago. But I really need it, Mama. I know how they feel; I often feel that way at Pottery Barn.

There is so much novelty and distraction in this world — in fact, while writing this little post here, I went to google something and then got distracted by a frilly article I didn’t know I needed to read until I saw the sensational headline — but then I had to read. it. immediately.

And now I’m back, and I’ve lost my train of thought, but nevertheless, this helps make my point: I didn’t need to read that article. I don’t need another fountain and a J Crew.

I picked up a few new books for my children for the holiday season this year, my favorite of which I read before I gave it to my 3-year-old daughter. I sat on the dusty wooden floor by the front window while the afternoon sun fell upon my hands as I turned the soft pages. Sitting beside a to-do list and unfinished Christmas cards, some craft supplies and a bag of newly-bought stocking stuffers, I slowly read The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston.

The true story is set in the early 1900s in a small, Appalachian mountain town. It is a story of family, community and the true longings of our hearts. But what came over me as I was reading it during the hushed hour of nap time was how simple life was. Not perfect by any means. But simpler.

Ruthie, the sweet little protagonist, wants two thing for Christmas — a doll. And for her father to come home from the war. They have little money — nobody in the town does — so they have one tree for the whole community that a different family donates each year. They grow their own food. They sew their own clothes. And the highlight of their holiday entertainment is the Christmas program at the quaint town church that the whole village treks through the snow to attend.

As I read the story I have that same thought I have thought before: I am grateful for the age in which I live; but I can’t help but feel we have lost some things in all we have gained. I don’t have to make a litany of the temptations and distractions of our age, you know as well as I — but yet, I can tell you how I try to keep peace within them. For there are the things of this world that never change — and that is mostly, what we need.

For what we need is timeless: food, water, shelter, family, nature, friends, community, God, love, connection.

And therefore, there are sacred places and spaces in life that, like a time machine, join us with every generation that ever there was. They bring us side by side with Ruthie and her mountain town and a lone snow-capped Christmas tree lit by the yellow of a night lantern. They bring us in the same space as all the simple joys that will come forever more.

When I get off the internet and turn off the television and go into the forest for a hike with my kids, I am entering it. When I use my hands and heart to craft a handmade gift, or put ink pen to cold paper to write a letter, or let my creativity make something beautiful, I am there. When I gather with friends in a warm livingroom, filled with soul-quenching food and conversation, I am entering it. When my husband and I share a blanket, leg over leg, book beside book, in the quiet crannies of the evening; when grandparents and aunts and uncles fill our pine wood table, covered in white plates and the laughter of children; when bright-eyed babies wake on Christmas morning to discover the treasures awaiting them, we are there.

This is not meant to be an anti-consumerist holiday diatribe; I just picked up (another) order from Amazon.com off the front porch for goodness sake. But now, I think, I will go sit on it. And I will rock there in the rocking chair and watch the children play and let myself live in a time where children live: where there is no time.

Where needs are as immediate as a mother’s lap and a hearty snack. Where joys are as plentiful as the pile of dirt beneath us. And where all we have is all we need.

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