The world and I are consumed by scarcity.
Here are a few of my daily thoughts: I don’t get enough sleep; I don’t eat well; I don’t always do my best work; I don’t exercise as much as I should (though I’ve heard it relieves depression); I don’t have enough stuff; I wish I could avoid those people (but I really hope they like me).
I am convinced that where I ought to be is somewhere else, and what I ought to have is something more. I live in anticipation of future scenarios out of fear of past (or impossible) consequences.
Scarcity ensures that my fight-or-flight instincts are put to good use, regardless of any real, imminent danger. I fear a lot of things—water sports, fish with teeth, public bathroom door handles, clapping on 1 and 3—but I fear stopping the most.
Stopping turns my scarcity into anxiety. So I fear things related to stopping. I fear silence, idleness, and leisure, on my own and in relationships. As long as I am not stopping, I am beating back scarcity. As long as I am working, I am producing (and that’s what it’s all about). As long as I have friends, family, shelter, food, and work, I am okay. For all things awkward, uncomfortable, or unknown I have my soma-phone* to make me feel removed and content.
*Read Brave New World
My Story of Scarcity
Six months ago I stopped.
Just before I graduated from college, I anticipated the worst. Fears surfaced and my insecurities exploded. I cried with my mom. I went to counseling. I went to the doctor.
People stop at different times in life, but I stopped just before I graduated—and I definitely didn’t want to. I took time off. I dropped and shattered my proverbial spinning plates, and I was sad because I liked those plates. I stopped drinking coffee. I changed career stuff. I read a lot. Eventually I started working part-time and I moved into a house with some people.
In the midst of mourning my plates and writing my thoughts—which I needed to recognize as “feelings”—I watched Garden State.
In Garden State, Andrew’s (Zach Braff) psychiatrist dad has led him to believe that his mother’s accident and paralysis was his fault. Andrew stops taking the brain drugs prescribed by his doctor and father and finally begins to feel pain, among other things. He starts to find genuine relationships with people who have problems too. My story is much different than Andrew’s, but his struggle for connection, and the desire to feel strongly—even the pain of loss—resonates.
There is solidarity and security found in giving into unpleasant life circumstances and feelings instead of avoiding them. There is somehow abundance (not scarcity) in the desolate places, because those places are real.
A Garden’s Story of Scarcity
Out of my stopping (as quiet and desolate as it was and is), grew my awareness and fondness for plants. I planted a garden. I buried some seeds in rows and I watered the dead crumbs until they came to life again. Nothing has wrecked my concept of scarcity more thoroughly than my daily walks from bed to bed.
My minimal effort and imperfect care for crumbs in the dirt has led to the growth of diverse clusters of foliage that provide emotional and physical sustenance. Out of scarcity has flourished beauty that is both pleasant to the eyes and the palette . This is the most backwards experience of my life.
Dirt, water, and sun sustain herbs, brussels sprouts, green kale, blue kale, rainbow carrots, golden beets, heirloom tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers, and hops. Abundance.
Plants are like people in that they all look a little bit similar when they’re infants, but they start to take on distinct characteristics as they grow up. Plants, like people, also have limits. Some are obvious; some are less so. For example, I know that neither plants nor people can survive on motor oil. However, I don’t know why the sunflower seeds in pots under my desk lamp grew six inches in two weeks and why the succulents under the same desk lamp died in two weeks.
Regardless of what I know and don’t know, plants grow, I eat, the sun shines, rain falls, bees pollinate, the hail is small enough to spare the lives of sprouts, and I simply watch and enjoy. I can say that working the ground is difficult, but making a tomato from a seed is much more intricate and impressive, and I am thankful for the DNA that facilitates.
Knowing that abundance exists has influenced my mentality of scarcity. I live in the present more completely, knowing that the entire sum of my existence must occur there, and no where else. I am worthy of the attention, time, and affection of others, and more importantly, of myself. If plants are the shadow of an unseen God, he must not worry about scarcity. Therefore, I should not neglect my place and presence for things I do not have.
Wendell Berry has written a lot of things that resonate with me, but the following quote has been particularly meaningful. Do me a favor and read it slowly.
“In a time that breaks
in cutting pieces all around,
when men, voiceless
against thing-ridden men,
set themselves on fire,
it seems too difficult and rare
to think of the life of a man
grown whole in the world,
at peace and in place.
“But having thought of it
I am beyond the time
I might have sold my hands
or sold my voice and mind
to the arguments of power
that go blind against
what they would destroy.”