We are the sum of our experiences, and those we know and love are the ones who teach us the most about life and happiness. Everyone in my life has contributed to making me a better person, and i am compelled to share with others what I have gained from each of them, out of gratitude and as a testament to them, and perhaps with a small hope that their examples will contribute constructively to others’ lives. This is the first installment.Jason and i have known each other since 7th grade. Back then he wore a black Member’s Only jacket and had thicker hair. We became excellent friends in high school, where we co-founded the informal Camel Club, which was comprised entirely of two members, no more and no less, kind of like the sith lords from a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. we are currently considering an exception to the two member rule- the induction of a third member, one Radley A, Jason’s 1 year old son. The camel club was devoted to doing nothing but sitting around and laughing at stupid jokes. The only “official” activity was the official camel club song, which comprised of the smurf and hawaii 5-0 themes, sung simultaneously. little radley will have to learn at least the melody of one of the songs to qualify for induction. or we can just give him a can of blue food coloring and a jar of cotton balls. he’ll mess around in it and inadvertently make himself into a baby papa smurf in no time.
Jason is definitely much smarter than me (not hard to do, yhheeeeppp). He has a very high iq and an innate curiosity about how things work. my love for physically taking stuff apart and deconstructing concepts (which often gets me in deep doo doo!) was mostly picked up from jason over decades of inevitable osmosis. He is a very deep thinker of the most genuine kind- he actually cares about understanding the things that occupy his brain without much thought to declaring them to others with an intention to impress. he’s taught me about proper swimming form, electrical wiring, physics, philosophy, and countless other things (yes, we’re nerdy). in addition to all of these things, jason taught me perhaps the most important lesson of all (if it’s not the most important, i would say that it is the most pervasive, as it influences my thoughts and actions every day).
While others may buy baby bjorns to snugly attach their babies to themselves, jason concocted one from an airplane blanket. he would much rather understand how something fundamentally works and implement it himself than buy some whiz-bang gizmo that’s supposed to do the same thing at 10 times the price but breaks after two uses with no way of fixing it. in high school, at the peak of my own unchecked materialism, i once picked up jason at the airport. i asked him if he had a backpack full of diversions for the plane ride, and he simply pulled a wrinkled paperback out of his hoodie pouch and said that it was his in-air entertainment. it was as if a light bulb had literally blinked on inside my head. i thought about the all-manner-of-gizmos i’d have had on my own person had i been on that flight. and how convincing myself that i had to have all of that stuff to survive the boredom of an airplane flight was -partially at least- simply a way to fill a hole in my own soul; to validate my own ill-defined self worth.
in an era of excess and blatant consumerism, it’s easy to get caught up and forget what the true sources of one’s happiness are. like many people, i’ve read and heard a lot of stuff from countless brilliant philosophers, poets, pundits, screenwriters, gurus, know-it-alls and blowhards about materialism and how it affects society and the human condition. i’m even buddhist, having been born into a buddhist family. but buddhists have their own share of blatant materialists who pray for bmw’s. but i never truly understood what true detachment and freedom from material things meant until jason demonstrated it to me in that single moment at the airport, and in countless other similar moments and conversations.
there is a zen-inspired poetry as well to jasonism. there is beauty in simplicity, and fulfillment in understanding, having and doing exactly what’s needed; no more and no less. i’m a sailboat guy, not a speedboat guy (actually, i’m not nautical at all but you get the picture). i prefer a swiss army knife to a giant toolbox. books and magazines are much more practical for a plane or train ride than a walkman, laptop, dvd player or anything else that’s battery operated. disposable containers and wrappers are better than empty boxes and cases that you have to lug back home even after you’ve consumed the contents. a lexus gives you dual zone air conditioning, but a honda gives you the freedom to park in a tight spot without caring about getting a ding on your door. sometimes more is more, but it’s almost always more burdensome.
it’s been many years since high school, and today i like most adults have many financial responsibilities. but pat and i are fortunate- we live comfortably, spend modestly, don’t worry too much about money, and travel to see far-off friends and family when we can. but everything that i own was purchased for its utility, and not for my gratification, to seek validation from others, or to otherwise inflate my ego. i drive a honda, not a mercedes benz or bmw. i use a cheap charcoal grill instead of a fancy built-in gas number, and i enjoy the ritual of stacking and lighting the coals. i buy computers that are a few generations behind the cutting edge. same for my digital camera, cell phone, and every other electronic doo-dad i have. i wear wal-mart sandals and not birkenstocks. i’ll only buy the birkenstocks if the wal-mart or target ones don’t fit my overly wide feet. i invest in low cost index funds and not high fee hedge funds. my floating pool recliner is a single thick sheet of flexible foam that is way more comfortable than the fancy doohickeys that cost twice as much. i buy nothing from the sharper image.
yes, i own these things. but they do not own me.
i am defined by my actions. not by my possessions.
for these life-changing insights, i owe jason a debt i can never fully repay.