LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Gwenyfar Rohler still dreams of a world where actions speak louder than words
I am lost. There really is no way around it, for the last few weeks a fog of confusion has slowly been descending upon my life. Certainty is something I have always yearned for but has eluded me. I too easily get lost in thought spirals desperately following assorted perspectives down rabbit holes of no return. But I have come to a point of confusion and disbelief I never expected. Frankly, I don’t know what to do.
For years now Jock and I have lived our philosophy and values, moved ever steadily in the direction of our dreams. We live small: we heat with wood, we have two window air conditioner units, we recycle after we have reused things as many times as possible, the ash from the wood stove fertilizes plants, neither of us spend extravagantly on clothes, trinkets or status symbols, we eat simple vegetarian meals at home most nights, and most of our entertainment budget is spent on community art events. The dogs, Full Belly Project and bookstore are probably our most lavish financial indulgences. I’ve long accepted owning and operating a floating gin palace (i.e., personal pleasure boat) is an aspiration many people have—and I will never dissuade them of it—but that, for me, is choosing how I spend my time and life. That at the end of the day I can look myself in the mirror. But I am starting to question if this is all a delusion I’ve bought into, and if I haven’t been wrong all along. What if none of it matters? What if these choices I make for my life are just a joke? I’ve thought for years we as a society were slowly making progress with making the world a better place, leaving it in slightly more considerate, caring, careful hands than we found it. More people had access to education than ever before. More people had access to platforms of expression and connection than ever before. Yet, somehow, none of it seems to matter and the world feels to me like it is pedaling backwards.
Last week, my friend John and I were working on installing a new wiring harness in my VW bus when we heard a man’s voice proclaim “That’s a little project!”
“I wouldn’t really call it little,” I responded, from behind the VW bus body that lacked a transaxle and an engine; taking in the sight of a couple with two small dogs staring at the garage. “Woodstock …” the lady repeated quietly to herself.
The gentleman inquired if this was a professional or passion project, as in: was this bus being restored to sell and is this something we did for pay?
I caressed my bus protectively and answered, no, we—she and I—were together for the long haul, and this was very much a labor of love.
“Oh, ‘cause you see I live to make money,” he responded. “But not everyone does. That’s OK.”
As they walked away John and I stared at each other in shock. “’I live to make money’?” I quoted to John. “At least he admits it,” John pointed out.
“Dear God,” I shook my head. Am I that off base—to want to restore my bus because I have always wanted to restore a bus; to learn everything about how she works and feel confident to face these problems? Am I crazy to want a vehicle I can work on with friends rather than stare at in confusion when the computer does something to the system that leaves everyone shaking their heads? One, I might add, that is paid for, not financed for the next 10 years? I guess so.
I am not going to make money on the bus. By the time we are finished with the restoration she will cost far more than I would ever get if I sold her—and I am not planning to sell her. I hope to celebrate her 100th birthday with her.
A year ago when I wrote a column about losing hope and perspective, my friend Wade came by with a letter advising the opposite—to find some good and not just doom and gloom. Around this time of year, making a list of blessings and thankfulness is common. But right now I am trying to find my footing again in an uncertain world, so I find myself trying to remember things I am certain about:
1. Jock, he is something I do not take lightly nor for granted.
2. The importance of his work with Full Belly Project.
3. The dogs, Horace and Hilda. They are wonderful, thoughtful, caring, and hardworking—qualities I try to emulate. I need to try harder.
4. I still believe plain old-fashioned hard work is the secret to success and will accomplish more in the long run than any new fad.
5. I still believe a well-informed electorate can make a difference in the world, and a small group of determined people can work a world of change.
6. I believe goals are accomplished by small daily tasks, not Herculean grand gestures. For years I have asked myself each night at bedtime what I did toward each of my goals that day? I guess now I need to start asking myself what I have done toward overcoming fear. Because I still believe speaking truth to power is the most fundamental responsibility of American citizenship—at local, regional and national levels. I want clean drinking water and I want local political leadership with vision of our community as something greater than the sum of its parts. But all that takes active participation.
7. And, Wade is right. No matter how lost, confused and generally bummed out I am, we have to keep moving forward toward something worthwhile. Right now I’m not sure if that is toward a life geared at making money and nothing else—if it is, I’m not real sure I can switch gears and embrace it. It’s odd because I am a very driven, very ambitious person, but money has never been the motivating factor. Paying the bills, yes. But amassing wealth? No. Getting out of debtor’s roulette is probably the single biggest positive change in our lives in the last few years. But neither of us is motivated by a bank balance or perceived awe at great toys. Looking around me, I’m baffled and wondering if we are seriously off track? Perhaps my hopes that concerted, long-term small actions toward something greater really have been nothing more than delusions of hope all along. But we all need something to believe in and dream toward. Me? Well if pressed, I guess I’m still dreaming about a world where actions speak louder than words and compassion is a strength, not a weakness.