I had occasion today to make a round trip drive to Fresno. The vast majority of the trip takes place on US 99 and although it is perhaps a little more “scenic” than the parallel journey down Interstate 5, that is not saying much. With a little more than six hours behind the wheel, I found my mind wandering. Eventually those loosely constructed thoughts began to congeal and by the time I was about 100 miles south of my home near Sacramento, this essay started to take shape. I have traveled that road many times – literally and figuratively – and the overarching theme this time was one of peace, despite not having any desire to go to Fresno or sit in a car for the better part of the day.
The reason for my venture is not important. The destination or the time spent there are not of any particular interest, either. Even the governmental bureaucratic inefficiency that made the trip necessary didn’t faze me. It was all okay. A waste of time? Perhaps in some respects, but it never seems to feel that way when I am generally at peace, especially when I am able to reflect upon and acknowledge it. It all began by thinking about stuff; the material things that make life more comfortable. From there the thoughts moved toward what is necessary and extra-necessary. I realized that I have some nice stuff – this is not a new revelation, but in my busy day-to-day life, I can take some of these things for granted, even when I know better.
In this day and age, there are a few necessities. They were not always necessities and I suppose an argument could be made that they are not absolutely necessary at all. I would counter that argument. I need a home and I need a vehicle. I have both and both are definitely beyond necessary – they are nicer than necessary. And I need to eat, but probably not as well (or as much) as I do. As necessary as these things are – nice, basic or otherwise – I am not entitled to any of it. I didn’t used to think that way; in fact, I thought I was entitled to much more than even the nice things I have today. Although these things do not constitute who I am, who I am plays a role in producing them. When suffered from the illusion of entitlement, no matter how good I had it, it wasn’t good enough. But the effort to get what I thought I needed was, at best, only good enough.
The respect I showed the stuff I was fortunate enough to have through fortune or grace reflected the dissatisfaction I had with my place in life. And it is no wonder that when I define my inner self by material items found outside myself, that identity was subject to change with the ebb and flow of fate. Today, I like my stuff - I intend to keep it; I take care of it, but if it were gone tomorrow I wouldn’t think any differently of myself than I do right now. That stuff has nothing to do with who I am, it only serves to make physical reality slightly more comfortable. But it wouldn't mean a hill of beans if I didn’t have a positive image of myself to begin with – I’ve been there, too, I know.
Coming back from Fresno - to my home and in my car - I realized that these things I have today are far more valuable than all the things I had before the past five or six years. It’s not because they are all that much nicer, but rather because I know I don’t need the “nice” component at all. True, I need a home, a vehicle and food (and the means to pay for it), but all the rest comes from the inside. That is where the peace I felt today came from.