I remember going Christmas shopping with my parents and my older sister when I was a small child. We would always try to take a trip up to the big city to do our shopping and to see The Nutcracker. When my sister and I were old enough, we would sometimes make this an overnight trip; ballet one night, shopping one day. We would dress up and make a true adventure of it. It was special, it was sacred, it was worth stiff, patent leather shoes and a bow in my unruly, blond curls. It was worth a hair brushing. (And if you knew me as a wee-one, you would understand how bold a statement that is).
Now, as an adult, living in a different, but similar big city, I am constantly struck by the fact that no one makes shopping an event, an adventure. It is just a thing to do. All day long, I sell lingerie to women who spend thousands of dollars on what they wear in the bedroom but come to buy such things in yoga pants and a hooded sweatshirt. Spending money is just part of existence. We consume, we discard. And we do it over and over and over again. I’ve also begun to notice that the same trend seems to be true of how people treat one another and, given that this is a season meant to encourage love of one’s fellow human beings; sharing, caring and so on, I thought this issue of consumption worth a few (thousand) words.
The other night at work, I was closing and a customer came in a few minutes before the store was set to close. The details of the transaction are not important, but the overall impression of the experience was. You see, she was a brash, loud, demanding and self-conscious creature spending a day traipsing around in her sweats and maxing out her credit cards (no joke), just so she could feel productive, useful, beautiful, worthwhile. We now base a persons worth on what they have, not who they are. As this particular customer kept asking me the same insipid questions over and over, “Does this look HOT? Is this SEXY?”, I wanted to grab her by she shoulders and scream, “STOP SPENDING MONEY! GO FIND YOURSELF AND ATTEMPT RECLAIM AT LEAST ONE SHRED OF DIGNITY, DAMMIT!” But I didn’t. I told her she looked hot, she bought expensive lingerie and left feeling a little prettier, a little more valuable for one moment in time and, thus, she could put off facing herself, her own mind and the truth of her existence for one more day.
The following day, my day off, I set out to start my Christmas shopping. I went to the Mecca of all toy stores, FAO Schwartz to find a truck for my boyfriend’s son. He is four and a half and he loves trucks. Fair enough. I wanted to get him a simple Tonka dump truck. Yet, the selection of cars and trucks available was appalling. Race cars with advertisements written all over them, trucks with so many colors and gadgets and gizmos there is no room left for that fabulous, mythical, wondrous thing called IMAGINATION. It struck me then that we are a society who is anti-thought. Children are supposed to play and imagine things, but only the proscribed things that we want them to imagine. This is a travesty. I left FAO Schwartz in disgust. I have yet to find him a simple dump truck.
Sadly, the more we put off thinking and the more we pigeon hole creativity, the more we consume, use up and discard only to consume more, the less we value one another. Working in retail, you see how horribly human beings treat one another. And it goes both ways because the salesgirls (some, not all) see the customers as commission and the customers (some, not all) see the salesgirls as indentured servants. No one party treats the other as an equally valuable, worthwhile, human being.
So what does all of this add up to? Well, I think we, as a society, have lost something. We’ve lost sight of what is really important, our relationships with others and our relationships with ourselves. We have also lost respect for the objects in our lives. In the age of sky-high credit limits and virtual shopping, the dollar is no longer valued and we have lost the sense of pride that comes with working hard for what you have. I don’t know if there is a way to turn back the clock on these issues, but I certainly refuse to get swept up with the tide. I do and will continue to work at valuing each person I encounter, no matter how unkind they may be to me, and valuing the possessions I have. Every experience can be an adventure and nearly everything we have access to in this country is a privilege and I think we should be mindful of that and make the most of it, but more on that in my next post.
For now, I’ll leave you with this parting thought for the impending holiday, courtesy of “The Muppet Christmas Carol”: "It's in the singing of a street corner choir/It's going home and getting warm by the fire/It's true, wherever you find love it feels like Christmas/A cup of kindness that we share with another/A sweet reunion with a friend or a brother/In all the places you find love it feels like Christmas/It is the season of the heart/A special time of caring/The ways of love made clear/It is the season of the spirit/The message if we hear it/Is make it last all year!"
Until next time,
Betty B. Goode