I don’t have a lot right now, and I don’t really mind. I don’t mind that the only thing I can afford to spend money on is food and rent and tuition, I don’t mind that my aging wardrobe is a collection of worn jeans and old skirts, or sweaters that used to belong to my mother. I don’t even mind that my clothes are kept on a couple shelves in the pantry of my apartment next to the canned goods because my room was too small to fit a closet. My space is modest, my schooling is expensive, and my resources are limited. And I’m outlandishly grateful for it.
I think it’s healthy to spend some time living a minimal life. Although one day I hope to amass some more funds in order to own a home and raise a family (since I absolutely refuse to believe when people tell me that my generation will be incapable of having these things due to a poor economy and high cost of living, we’re innovative and we’ll find a way. I swear.), for now, I’ve found that while I lack material abundance, I’ve become affluent in terms of creativity and spirituality.
I’ll be honest, my bank account is slim, but my perceptions of wealth were altered after the passing of my great uncle whom I considered a grandfather this last August. My mother described him as “not a rich man, but rather a man who led a rich life”. My grandfather owned a motorhome in place of a mansion, and while he did not not lord over hundreds of employees on a quest of monetary gain, he was adored by his wife, children, grandchildren, and by my parents and my brother and I. When his life ended, his family came together to see him make a return to the good Earth, and we did it out of love. It rained the day he was buried, both from the sky and from our eyes, but we were the riches we left behind.
Watching someone reach the end of their life made me think about what was really going to matter at the end of my own. When people pass, they don’t ask to see their sports cars one more time, they ask for their spouses. They don’t request their jewelry, they want to see their children. They aren’t going to waste their precious time checking how high they got their bank balances as they draw their last breaths, they use that to make peace and tell those that matter that they love them.
When we are conditioned to believe that success is material, it’s easy to lose sight of what really makes an individual “rich”. When I returned to Vancouver to begin my second year of university, fresh from the funeral, I continued to be haunted by my mother’s description of my grandfather’s life and the measure of his wealth. I had to take out more student loans for this year than in the previous year, and already being in debt, my worries were largely financial. Was this all worth it? Was I going to have enough? Was I going to be able to have any fun or buy anything at all?
But the beautiful thing about not having a lot, is that you become wonderfully creative with what you do have, just as my grandfather was. He had his family and his books and he had his model ships and airplanes, those were his treasures. And so I decided that my education, my relationships and the world around me would be my wealth in place of of abundant funds.
When you attend a university known for an affluent population, it can feel easy to feel somewhat inadequate when your classmates are driving BMWs and wearing Moschino. But then I remember that I am loved, and I remember how much I love who I’ve chosen to have in my life, I remember that I’m healthy, and that I live next to the ocean.
A few weeks ago, I was walking to the bus station with someone very dear to me, when they pulled me into a courtyard on campus that I had never seen before. It was dark, and it was raining. The lone lamp illuminated the water droplets that had been caught on the branches of the trees naked in preparation for the winter, and while I couldn’t see the stars through the cloud cover, I knew they were smiling down on me. And I went home, and there was a picture of my brother on my bedroom wall, and a message from my best friend on my phone, and one of my roommates was eating popcorn with chopsticks. And I was rich that night, I was so rich.
When you haven’t got a lot, you learn to make something out of nothing. You learn the value of having enough. Enough to eat, enough warm clothing, enough sleep and hot water. When you can’t afford extravagance, you learn to embellish your life with experiences rather than things. I can’t even afford many experiences, so I learn to take advantage of what’s free that often gets overlooked. My memories of dancing with my friends and hiking trails on a whim simply because they were there are my most prized possessions.
I’ve got very little to my name. Other than some books and clothes, I can’t claim to “own” much, even where I sleep at night is just a place I’m renting temporarily. And this is fine, because I have my family, my friends, my memories and I’ve somehow ended up in the most beautiful place in the world, receiving a world class education. In spite of my lack resources, I am grateful. I have enough. I have what I need, and I can decorate my existence by finding new ways to fall in love with people and the world every single day I am alive, rather than with things I have bought. And so the story goes, don’t waste your precious life counting your dollars when you could be counting your blessings.