“And in the end, it’s not the years of your life that count; it’s the life in your years.”
- Abraham Lincoln
My husband’s maternal grandmother, Irene Dillworth, was a wonderful woman, remarkable in many ways. She was a loving wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, a tremendous cook, vibrant, funny, genuine. She did not have a mean, angry or spiteful bone in her body. But, she did one thing that her daughter considered a mistake. She owned very nice china, and only used it, probably, about four times in her entire life. She treasured this set of fine china so much, that she treated it like a treasure, keeping it locked away most of the time in a cabinet.
After she passed away, her daughter, my mother-in-law, Brenda, inherited this set of china. She put it in a cabinet, where she could see it every day, and announced that she would use this fine china as often as possible — for family gatherings. Many times, when we visited her on spring break, around birthdays, and Thanksgiving, we had lunches and dinners on this china. It didn’t matter if it were for four people, six people, or the entire brood of family and friends and their children — she used, and still uses, this china.
Her late husband, Larry, also believed in using nicer things. He grew up dirt poor (literally barefoot, on a farm) in Southeast Missouri. So, for example, when we ate at Brenda’s and Larry’s house, we also used cloth napkins at every big meal along with that nice china.
For one of my birthdays, my cousin and his wife gifted us with Waterford crystal glasses. Jeff, my husband, looked at the glasses and said we are going to use them every day. I laughed, but then realized that he was serious. That thought never occurred to me, I assumed that those special glasses would be for special occasions.
The following week, Jeff went to the CoinStar machine, cashed in our three change jars, then went on line, and bought six more Waterford glasses in the same design because we only had four to start with. He wanted to have enough for visitors and account for a break now and again, and indeed, we did break one of the glasses about six months after we started using them daily, but accidents happen. Every time I use a heavy, tall Waterford crystal glass, I feel rich. (I also feel taller and thinner, but have no idea why that is. The rich, classy part makes sense, the height and weight-loss things don’t.) It doesn’t matter if I’m drinking diet Dr Pepper, water or milk from it, the glass elevates an ordinary act of drinking into something more special, something out of the mundane and into the realm of extra-ordinary.
My husband bases his life on the philosophy that life should be lived. He prizes experience above things. He’d rather get a gift card for a restaurant than a tchotchke, no matter how expensive it is. “What is the point of having nice things if we don’t use them? They’re wasted, otherwise.” Jeff says.
He’s absolutely right. To live every day as if it matters; this particular day matters, the people you are with matter — from there it’s just a skip to the fact that your actions matter, as are your thoughts and feelings — just as they matter in people around you. Do you want to elevate your existence? Do you want to be surrounded by nice things, or at least have a couple of meaningful things you use on a regular basis? Then do it! Spend your money on an experience or something that brings you joy when you use it, because when you die, you can’t take it with you. But your memories will keep you warm on cold and lonely days, and aren’t you worth it? Aren’t you worth a little more effort you can put into your surroundings?
In fantasy lore, dragons hoard gold. That’s what they do. It’s pretty much the entire reason for their existence. And what do they do with this gold? Nothing! They just hoard it. They stick it in their caves, and sleep near it. Does that sound like a life worth living? Even Scrooge McDuck, who is a greedy miser, would go to his giant gold vault, and play in his money. He would dive into it from a diving board, swim around in it, and generally toss it about. Sure, it’s not the best use of money, but at least he enjoyed it, even if in an unorthodox way.
When I saw a movie, “Amelie” for the very first time, I was struck by something particular. Amelie, the main character, at one point makes herself dinner, in her apartment. She is alone, she is cooking and eating by herself. She makes pasta, and then takes a cheese grater and grates some hard cheese on top of that. So far, so normal. Then, Amelie takes that grater and cheese and sets them on a small dish near her. That little dish and that little act — dirtying another dish, but making the dinner special for the one person — is something I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t even consider it. I’d use the cheese grater, then put it away, along with the cheese. It was so … French, so not lazy about the whole experience of dining. That’s when I thought to myself, “Self, I want to be more like that, take a little more care with things on purpose. Be a little more for myself.” Because I know that if I do that, I can be a little bit more for others, as well.
Life is short. But you can live it full and you can live it wide. It’s entirely up to you.