Monday, June 15, 2009

Of Bike Commuting, the Simple Life, and A Question of Gratitude

My days start and end more elegantly when they start and end (more or less) on my bike. My core self is awakened, along with what I value and find meaningful. My senses focus on the beauty of the natural world. I pedal toward downtown and appreciate the gentle curves of the bike path and, lately, the pink, purple, and yellow flowers blooming among the grassy brush. Occasionally, I am childishly delighted when a rabbit hops across the path or a pair of blue birds flit dash between trees. I look up at the Peaks and think about how many tens of thousands of years they have existed and am humbled. We humans live a short life so we had better make the most of it. Owning and acquiring won't extend our lives (unless, of course, we acquire, own, and actually pedal a bike). I think of this as images from the new Eddie Bauer sale catelog intrude upon my thoughts. Won't that skort look great on ME on my bike in the pages of SRAB?

Despite that Bob and I are trying to simplify our lives, and bike commuting is part of that as we learn to depend less and less on using a car, we continue to want things we don't need and fight the urge to live beyond our means (something nearly impossible in Flagstaff and so many other cities and towns in the Southwest). I can definitely say that I don't feel grateful for all our "stuff", with the exception of my laptop and my bike. Chatting with some friends over the weekend, we talked about how our numerous possessions weigh us down. Choices seem more remote as we worry about what we'll do with or how we'll live without all our things. I wonder if my new Patagonia skirt counts as "stuff". At least I can fold it in a ball small enough to fit in a carry on bag or one of my panniers.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about gratitude and all that is being said about being grateful and being lucky, especially with respect to employment. These days, if Worker #5 has a job he or she is typically told he or she should feel grateful. I think most of us who have survived a round of layoffs do feel grateful on some level but what if we don't? Does lack of gratitude for having a job mean one suffers from an entitlement complex, or is selfish, self-absorbed and unwilling to count one's blessings? Gratitude to me suggests luck and having gained without effort - in my opinion. I don't know that I necessarily feel lucky or grateful to have a job. I am absolutely grateful, very lucky in fact, that my community has invested in a great urban trail system that allows me to safely get to and from work on most days that it doesn't snow. Very grateful that we have an alternative to having to pour our money into the gas tank.

I suppose if I made no effort to find and keep my job, if I brought nothing to my position or place of business, or did not care about how my behavior or words might reflect upon employer and coworkers then I would and should feel grateful that anyone would keep me on the payroll. On, the one hand many, many dedicated employees have been let go so by that token one should feel grateful to have a job, any job (and I don't have just a job; I actually have a pretty good job in a town where there are generally fewer employment opportunities that offer benefits and opportunities for grownth). On the other hand, is not everyone expected to work? How is a person expected to survive without a job. My goodness, this isn't Denmark! Or even Canada. As Timothy Geithner assures us that CEOs of money losing corporations receiving bailout monies are too valuable and smart to risk loosing to overseas competitors and shouldn't be subject to salary caps, I wonder who really should be grateful.

Readers might not be sure what all this has to do with bike commuting. I'm not sure if it has a thing to do with bike commuting! Maybe bike commuters are more likely to ponder questions about who is entitled to a job versus who should feel grateful? Perhaps my choice to pedal to work rather than simply jump in the car illustrates my tendancy to question the norm. Still, I feel rather ashamed to question gratitude so I wonder if I am alone in this.

I know that Bob and I are grateful to have found one another. This weekend we celebrated our luck of finding each other, and a house with a generous front porch, by inviting the friends we have made in the almost 3 years we've been in Flagstaff over for a recessionary ($10 or under) wine (whine) party. To show our gratitude for their presence in our lives we spend several hours in our kitchen preparing appetizers carefully selected by the Planner Guy from one of his many cherished cookbooks. To see people arriving one time and staying late reenforced for me where my values lie, with people coming together in a kitchen or filling front porch, sharing inexpensive wine and good food. Anyone of them could have been anywhere but they chose to spend their time with us and this fact made me feel very grateful.


Dottie said...

Lovely thoughts!

stylocycle said...

Totally grooving on all that you have written here. I could not agree more!

I wish my friends/colleagues and self didn't spend so much time leaving town in the summer months to pursue work elsewhere as it prevents spending time arriving early and staying late to enjoy food, wine and good company.

I guess I'll just have to take more advantage of our groundedness in the deepest winter months.

Love the photos that accompany this piece -- makes it almost anthropological.

Camille said...

Love this post cousin Karen. Been thinking a lot on these lines myself lately. Now that baby makes 3, but yet we are actually able to live on Doug's salary, why do I work?? For now only part time, but the thought always comes to mind, wouldnt it be a very stupid time to quit a job? When so many are having a hard time finding one? hmmm....

Christa said...

Inspiring post. I imagine that many Americans are having similar thoughs and downsizing. Opulence seem like a faux pas now.

As a young American, I feel lucky to have bypassed the material aspirations of the American Dream. I don't ever want to own a house, a car, or a TV. Less is more.

NATRA blog said...

We will hang out on your porch anytime! Thanks for the great time! Neil and Diana