I usually read two or three books at a time. There is no good reason for this, except that I find I desire different types of books at different times of the day. Maybe the nonfiction I enjoy in the morning helps prime my mind for the day while the fiction in the evening helps me bridge the transition between consciousness and dreams.
Two of the books I am currently reading are “One Man’s Meat” by E.B.White and “You Learn by Living” by Eleanor Roosevelt. I read both in the morning with my first cup of coffee. This time of year, I read my morning books as I wait for the wood stove to warm the room and by extension, the house.
Both excellent books were written in the mid-1900’s; White’s in the early 1940’s and Roosevelt’s in 1960. Life lessons of 80 years ago are still applicable today indicating certain immutable traits of humanity.
What is truly eye opening to me are the descriptions of daily life in both books. In White’s 1939 essay, The Flocks We Watch by Night, he describes entering a friend’s house to sit in the kitchen one evening:
“‘Come in, won’t you?’ said Charles when the ewe was tied. ‘I’ll show you my new cat.’ …
“The boy and I groped along, and Charles struck a match and lit a lamp. I sat down in an old rocker by the stove and the boy stood beside me, his arm around me. Charles put the black kitten in my lap and it settled there.
“‘What’s the iron pipe out back?’ I asked.
“‘I’m going to pipe water into the house,” said Charles. ‘Sarah wants it and I guess she ought to have it. I got a pump from Sears a year ago, but I never put the pipe in. I don’t like to get things too handy around here.'”
And from Roosevelt’s essay, Readjustment is Endless, (Emphasis mine):
“For many generations there was no particular change in the family income. From father to son the situation remained approximately the same. But wars, depressions, and the – perhaps I could call it the invisible – revolution in the United States have all had their effect on income.
“As young people advance in their jobs and earn more money, they have an important and difficult adjustment to make. They must learn the best ways in which to use this larger income. Will they have more education? Will they add certain things to their homes they never thought of having, such as music or pictures? Will they have more service? They must make the decisions.”
These books are less than 100 years old. For me, these books don’t seem that old at all. You see, I was born in that odd space that demographers find problematic describing – the exact end of Gen X and the Millennials. Depending on who you believe, I fall into either camp. These books were written a little over one generation prior to my birth.
Both of these passages reinforce in my mind how fortunate we are today. We take running water inside the house for granted. We flick a light switch and our whole room is illuminated. We have multiple sources of entertainment – musical, TV, internet, movies, etc. Over 33% of the adult population has a college degree. Today, people consider the Amish conservative for not having electricity in their homes – but they still have running water. Even these ‘backward’ people live a more advanced life than did White’s neighbor.
We take so much for granted.
We should take one moment away from our list of wants and simply be grateful for what we have.
You know what – do that for me. Take one minute to look around you. Silence the small voice telling you everything that is wrong or that you need or what the Jones’s have. Look at something in your house that you take for granted – central heat, electricity, water, your computer, mobile phone(s), photos, art, your spouse, your child; even those people that have passed out of your life, for they were in your life to begin with.
Be thankful for that one thing – many people, including some of your grand parents, were not fortunate enough to experience that one thing.
But you are so fortunate.