I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
– E. B. White
As some of you know, I teach a Sunday School class for teenagers, and one of the themes we had in the lesson plan before Christmas was that getting stuff is overrated.
It’s one of the Bible’s most common themes, and Christmas brings it out.
We all think back to that time as children when we thought if we got that special toy, or at least lots of toys, we’d be happy.
But we never were for very long.
We always want more. We were never satisfied.
I told my young charges that this explains why adults, particularly grandparents, are so hard to buy gifts for. They not only have most everything they need, but they also know possessions don’t ensure much happiness.
It also explains why Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores are full of good stuff.
It also explains what I call my Earmuff Theory. It goes like this.
When I was in the fourth grade, I used to trudge the length of our rural driveway each morning and wait for the school bus to pick me up.
While standing around thinking fourth-grade thoughts, I usually came to realize my ears were cold.
When it got to where I couldn’t stand it anymore, I’d run back down the drive, rush inside and get a cap with flaps. (I don’t think anyone in the South actually had earmuffs, but you understand the concept.)
Then it was back out to wait in comfort.
Comfort is seldom known for longevity.
The bus was often late, and I would begin to notice that while my ears were now warm, my hands had become cold. My hands had not bothered me before, but now they were freezing. I would try to stuff them in my pocket, but then I couldn’t hold my books.
I would try alternating hands, warming one and holding with the other until the bus came ... or I would run back down the drive and get my gloves.
Aahhh ... yes.
Now I had warm ears and warm hands ... but I began to notice my coat wasn’t thick enough and I was getting cold.
Or my face was chilled from the wind and I didn’t have a scarf.
Or my feet and toes were growing numb because I probably needed two pair of socks.
You get the point, and eventually so did I.
I was never going to be completely warm or completely happy, and I would either have to accept it or do something about it.
It was one of the first things I ever figured out, but it’s been a reliable constant.
Chilly fourth-graders sometimes make good philosophers.