The first part of my life was spent spending money and obtaining things. I had valuable things but mostly worthless things. When my life took an unexpected sharp turn, I was left with what to do with the stuff. I could no longer keep it, so I got rid of it all. Sold what I could, amazing how no one wants your old stuff . Gave some away and threw out the rest.
All my years of collecting, being in constant debt and always living under the fear of losing it all left me with a few hundred dollars after selling the stuff, much of which I was still paying on. That was a very discouraging situation. The good news was my worst fear had come true. I literally and figuratively lost almost everything in terms of material possessions. And I survived and, in fact, thrived.
So I became a self-proclaimed minimalist. Life did get easier, no more days laying in wait for the bottom to drop out. No more worrying about the stuff as it slowly took over my life. The things I owned had begun to own me. I worked constantly and was only able to stay behind the bills, never getting ahead.
I remember days and weeks of absolute hopelessness. It felt like a self-imposed prison with no chance of parole. I prayed for an end, no matter how. I just wanted to breathe again. The end came in the form of a bankruptcy and Deed in Lieu of Foeclosure. The house had to be empty and I had to be gone. With no where in particular to be, the journey stated.
It took some time and a lot of soul searching (documented in past blog posts), but I was able to start over. I still try for minimalism and think I do fairly well. I found a job at the home of George Washington Vanderbilt (Biltmore). Mr. Vanderbilt was everything that I had come to despise. He built and lived in the largest private home in the United States. He traveled and he collected things….Boy did he collect things.
His home is a modest (my attempt at humor) 175,000 square feet. Biltmore Estate is an amazing place but I had difficulty rationalizing what I saw everyday with what I believed about opulence. It was more than I could grasp in the beginning. All I could see was the stuff…until I studied the man. Previous Vanderbilt generations may have been considered ruthless. That is generally how riches are amassed. But George turned his back on that and lived life on his terms with beauty and compassion as his guide.
I learned that George found beauty in the placement of a single plant or tree. The wonders he found while traveling fed his soul. A gentleness always filled his face. He found beauty and wanted to share it. His home became a museum but he loved and lived in it. He shared his many loves with friends and family and, ultimately with the world after his passing.
I never met the man, obviously, but I see daily how he lived. He was born into a life just like we all are. You can moan and complain, like I used to do or you can live your life with grace and purpose. I used to be sure it is easier to make your own way when there is an inheritance close by, but look at how many people have had that and lived lives sadder than the poorest of people. I have learned money is not the automatic solution to problems. In fact, it causes more than I can even imagine. Lesson learned.
I also am learning about how to be gracious. Grace has fallen out of favor these days. We, at work, are taught gracious hospitality. We are expected to act in a way that reflects the feeling of the house and family. I’m learning the high road is the better of the two. I’m learning to think before blurting our everything that comes into my head. I’m learning how to be graceful on a real level and I’m loving it. There is a reverence for myself and others. I’m learning that the beauty is not in the things but in the spirit. Unlike me, the things did not define him. His actions defined him as a person. He was giving to friends, family and the community. He had the foresight to create a national forest for future generations to enjoy. A person I have never met has taught me such things.
No, he was not a perfect man. I’m sure there were demons he fought with, but he tried to give back at every turn. His way is different from my way, but it is not the way that matters. It is the execution of the way and the lives touched. I’m grateful for this opportunity and hope that one day I have even a small fingerprint left behind me.