Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

Of Press Headlines, Possessions and Perspective


Things happened over the past few weeks which have made me muse on, what shall I say, the meaning of life or something deep-sounding like that?

The first was a particularly grisly murder about twenty minutes drive from here in Los Cristianos, a town in which I used to work, in fact, it took place in the adjacent building to where I worked.  A woman was stabbed and beheaded by a madman.  It goes without saying that one’s first thought is to express deep sympathy for her family.  Untimely death of a loved one is bad enough to endure without it being so horrific, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it will take for them to recover from the news.

The victim was around my age, and for a day afterwards my Facebook profile and my phone’s  message inbox were receiving  messages asking me to check in as the news spread around the world.  I think it shook up most everyone in the area because it was so random and unpredictable.  It’s like, no matter how carefully you drive, the accident you can’t avoid is the idiot who steams up behind you whilst text messaging and slams on his brakes too late.  There’s not a lot you can do.  I could happen to anyone. As it happened, I went to see off a friend at the airport that morning, and then drove into Los Cristianos  to go to my accountant’s office, which is in that adjacent building.  Had I not gone to the airport I would have been there at the time the murder happened and not a half hour later, (seeing the crowds and lack of parking I decided to leave my business until Monday, and turned for home) which made me realize that we, simply, never know when something might happen.

Holding that thought tight, because it confirms the knowledge that we should live each day, each moment, as if it might be our last.  Me, I procrastinate too much, far too much, but what if there is no tomorrow to do the things I put off?

The second news story has been this bizarre prediction about the “Rapture.” I didn’t for even one second believe that the world would come to an end May 21st, but you have to admit that this year has been a very newsworthy one so far, and most of it not good stuff, sad to say.  Earthquakes from Japan to Turkey to Spain; tsunami; riots in Tunisia and Egypt, countries with a healthy tourist trade up until then – I’m talking here about things which might happen to those of us living “ordinary” lives, not reporting from hotspots; floods and tornadoes in the US of unprecedented magnitude.  The list is already heavy and we aren’t even half way through 2011 yet, and these are events in which any of us or our friends or families might have easily been caught up in.

For those of us with wanderlust the most difficult thing to weigh is being thousands of miles away from people we love when something bad happens, whether it’s to us or our loved ones.  What was your first reaction on 9/11 once you’d taken in the breadth of what happened?  Mine was to contact my son who wasn’t home (the other one was) and other people close to me.  It wasn’t that I thought that they were likely to have been there in New York (though some had been just a week before), it was a need to let them know I cared and make sure they were ok – you know, just in case, because you don’t know what might happen tomorrow.

I was in the Florida Keys in the summer of 1996, driving back from Key West to Key Largo with the boys.  We’d had enough of driving and thought it might be fun to stop, buy some handheld line and hooks, and fish and picnic for a while, so we pulled into the parking of a small tackle shop.  The owner was really kind and helpful and we got to chatting.  Hurricane Bertha was approaching, and it was the main topic of conversation wherever you went.  I asked him how worried he was, and he told me that some years before he and his family lived in South Carolina, and had lost everything when  Hugo had hit.  It taught him a lesson.  They learned about what was really important in their lives.  They relocated, but still on the hurricane path, and now they kept a chest, which contained all the things they considered really valuable in their lives, and if Bertha continued on the track she was then on, threatening the Keys, they would simply load that chest into their truck and head to a shelter.

I talked about my own “moment of truth” before, here.  It was as we were on the cusp of emigrating, and everything we were bringing with us was en route, stored at the moment in a warehouse on Preston docks.  The weather had been filthy all summer, a justification (as if we needed one!) for our impending move.  Sleep was eluding me as I fretted about those possessions no longer under our control.  That was when things came into focus, and I began to understand the value of things.  Everything I really cared about, basically, my children, was under the same roof, sleeping peacefully and happily, and anything else was just “stuff.”

Makes you think, doesn’t it – about what’s really important in our lives? There’s an awful lot of talk about minimalism these days, about living with 100 things or ten things or whatever, ridding yourself of possessions, living for the moment, but to be truthful, I find a lot of it irritating.  I did “downsize” (and continue to do so from time to time) when my nest emptied.  Now it’s about what I feel comfortable with.  If someone has worked and saved to buy the car of their dreams, then why should they be made to doubt the legitimacy of their enjoyment? If I want to splurge on a designer handbag (assuming I had the money, of course!) then why should I feel guilty?  If we stop buying then manufacturing jobs are lost, whether it’s in a state-of-the-art car factory in Germany or a housewife stringing beads in her home in South Africa. As it happens I’d choose a ticket to just about anywhere over a designer whatever, but that’s not my point. Almost anything we do, or don’t do, has an effect on someone else these days.  Travellers keep airlines, hostels, hotels, train lines etc in business, people who are into fashion ensure employment in countries thousands of miles away – OK, yes I know working conditions in some of those countries are deplorable, but that’s for another day, today is about keeping stuff in perspective.

The problem is not with the possessions themselves, it’s with our attitude to them. After that stormy night prior to emigrating I had a much better sense of priorities, and that insight has been invaluable in the years in between.  So many things are just not worth angsting over, but people almost always are, their real happiness, welfare, education, freedom, respect.  It’s been a revelation and puzzlement to me that people I’ve met in recent years who have, literally, nothing are the ones with the broadest smiles.  It has to be all about attitude, the glass half full syndrome.  When we have a truckload of possessions those possessions can become a barrier between us and the world, or between us and happiness.  If we are worrying about losing them or damaging them all the time, then we don’t have the pleasure of enjoying them.  Everything passes.  We should enjoy our possessions if we have worked hard for them, but we should never lose sight of what is truly important.  We should keep them in perspective, and enjoy them today so long as we aren’t hurting anyone in doing so, because, well, you never know what tomorrow may bring.


Author: IslandMomma

Exploring island life and the freedoms of Third Age: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

20 thoughts on “Of Press Headlines, Possessions and Perspective

  1. I had a trick which I used from time to time, most often in Algeria, when sometimes things got too much for me and I would wonder “What on earth am I doing here?” I used to step back mentally from myself and look at what I had. I would think to myself ‘You have two gorgeous children, a husband you adore, a lovely home, enough money, everyone is in good health etc…” The rest is not important. It really helped me in some dark moments.

  2. Yes, we should all do that from time to time, take a step outside ourselves, and take stock. People first, it goes without saying, and the rest is the icing on the cake, but we shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about enjoying material things either!

  3. Wonderful post … just agree with it all!

  4. My attitude towards things has become much more fluid now that I don’t live in the same country as my family. What’s been important to me in this past year has been forging friendships, rather than buying possessions (although my new bike *is* rather gorgeous, I must say!). People are what matter, ultimately. Yes, it’s lovely to have material objects, but ultimately if I can’t carry them with me when I move on then I can always buy more or, even better, do without.

    • Absolutely, people are the most important. If you have a choice to make which is on that level, there’s no debate at all. Equally, so long as you didn’t steal that bike then you really should enjoy every second you have it, and not feel guilty about it. I read so much about people ridding themselves of possessions, and sometimes I think it’s a bit extreme. If it’s right for someone to sell everything except what’s in their backpack, that’s perfectly fine for them, but may not be for someone else. I am SO with Mark Twain when he said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…..” That said, I have met people who haven’t traveled too much, but who are still very well informed (especially in these internet days), so even travel isn’t essential either. What’s right is feeling comfortable with what you have, whatever it is. The worst thing for rich folk is the fear of losing what they have!

      BTW how can you NOT like trifle??? :=)

      • Ahahahaa! I’ve eaten bugs, scorpions, and even processed cheese, but trifle is the devil’s food, and on that I cannot be swayed. I think it’s to do with my first experience of it being on a British Airways plane, aged probably 2. Scarred for life, that’s what I am. And yes, I have tried it in all its different forms, including with the addition of lovely, lovely alcohol, but it still makes me want to hurl. All the more for you trifle-lovers, though. :))

      • Ah – I wondered if I could sway you with mine, but I see you have already sampled the liberally laced with sweet sherry variety! On processed cheese, however, we are TOTALLY agreed!!!

  5. really ancient song title comes to mind – ‘Count your blessings one by one’. my concerns with the recent incident in Tenerife was, after the sadness for the ladies family, was how these days news flies round the world so quickly. How this one crazy guy, who was clearly in need of help, can have an impact on tourism and economy of your island. We used to have a problem here with ‘aggressive begging’ which seems to have gone away but makes me wonder how, where what etc.

    • Yes! That song went through my mind when I was writing. I almost mentioned by days as a young ‘un in the Salvation Army Sunday School where that was number 1!!!!!

      So long as the truth is known I don’t think it will impact tourism too much, although there were fears. It seems to have been well documented that it was the random act of a madman. The islands are doing very well at the moment, but it’s fragile, of course. North Africa’s loss has been our gain, and now we have ash clouds again. The entire world is interdependent both materially and spiritually and that should be acknowledged more instead of the thinly veiled chauvinism which is so prevalent, especially as the Crisis deepens.

      I didn’t want to dwell on the event itself so much, because so much has been written, including some twaddle, and it’s enough, I think. I meant to take it as a lesson in life – you never know what may happen next, so be sure that as you are right now is the way you want to be.

  6. So true, every word you say. I am not big on possessions, I would much rather spend on travel, and well, experiences. However, I am constantly amazed at people I know who buy fancy stuff and then dead scared of it getting spoilt or dirty. I am talking about people with the fancy cars who never take it out anywhere, or the expensive heels that could get spoilt by walking.

    I always feel…such a waste.

    • Exactly! Why on earth have something you don’t use? My grandmother has a “best” tea service. It lived in a glass cabinet, in the “best” room, and I never, ever saw it used, though we lived with my grandparents for a long time. I can only presume that the Queen was expected to pop in one day, because I can’t imagine why else it wasn’t used. That was an early life lesson I remember! For me it’s been a road to cutting down to things either useful or beautiful (not sure where I picked up that phrase, but somewhere online) i.e. I have a couple of paintings which I like, so they are “beautiful”, and make me happy. Other people may have more than a couple, that’s fine. It’s a) the obsession with having possessions which seems silly to me and b) at the other end, you should be able to enjoy possessions if that’s what you want.

      Oh…..and…how about if you can’t even walk on those high heels ?:=) I speak from experience!

  7. My list of priorities in life are:

    1 – Health – without it you can be the richest person in the world and completely unable to function.

    2 – Relationship(s) – without someone to love, or at least friends to share life, it’s a lonely vacuum – even if you have loads of possessions.

    3 – Money – not as crucial as 1 & 2 imho, but you need enough to buy a decent quality of life, and a reasonable level of independence and freedom. These are the best things that money buys – rather than mere possessions.

    So my key to happiness is similar to the old adage; “Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise” – but in a slightly different order 🙂

    • My first reaction is to agree with Number One, but then I think Stephen Hawking, who continues to defy every opinion we have about health and disability. I have to agree that not everyone is blessed with his brain nor his positive attitude though!

      No arguing with Two! Romance might not be essential but love in the form of friendships and family most certainly is, and anyone who tries to buy those things always ends up the loser, achieving the opposite of what they desire!

      “Enough money” I love your definition. We all have different ideas about what a decent quality of life is, I guess. I always say if I win the lottery I will keep enough to ensure that and the rest will go to, well, some NGO. I love that you rate independence and freedom so highly……..i.e. not only political freedom, but freedom from the “keeping up with the Joneses syndrome” too. Having possession in perspective is key, I think. I have my own definition, which is right for where I am now in my life. It has been different in the past. It may change again, but being conscious of trying not to let greed creep in!

      • Stephen Hawking is the exception that proves the rule. Yes, when you have a mind like his maybe it’s not such a problem having a clapped out body, but he’d probably give anything to be able to get out of his chair and just go for a walk.

        By making Health my first priority I was saying that if we spent as much time, effort, and money on being as healthy as we can be, instead of say acquiring possessions and / or even acquiring relationships, then we’d be living inside bodies that would last longer, and function much better … so we’d be able to enjoy all the other stuff without illness, obesity, addictions etc controlling our lives.

        It’s interesting, for instance, how more and more research is showing how physical factors like diet and exercise affect mental conditions like depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s etc

        Perhaps in light of your SH counterexample, I’ll make Intelligence an equal top priority with Health.

      • I think we might make an exception for Hawking, though, don’t you?! He’s most definitely a one-off, and came quickly to mind because I’d been reading something about him lately.

        I don’t argue with your view on any other level! I was thinking about material possession when I wrote, but cramming as much sweet and fat stuff into our bodies as we can is another waste of money and certainly bad for us!! I have no room to talk. I still procrastinate about getting really healthy. Though I was watching an obese couple walking along the sea front in Los Cristianos this morning, and thought “they can’t even walk properly!” It’s the same principle, isn’t it, eating more than we need, owning more than we need. It’s greed I suppose. Not to mention that the Health Service (whether here or in UK) might function much better if it wasn’t dealing with problems caused by living badly. I wonder, actually, how many people die because they queue for treatment is so long and full of people with self-inflicted problems.

        That said, I’d hate to be healthy and lose my mind!

  8. Wm Morris quote – ‘have nothing in your home you know to be neither beautiful or useful’.
    of course those of us who have trouble ‘shedding’ would always dither with the fact that something could be useful or needed the day after your got rid of it! true an ugly thing will never become beautiful.

  9. Ah, thank you. That would be the designer guy? I had no idea from where I’d picked up the quote, but suspect it was someone else quoting him. Though undoubtedly beautiful his work definitely doesn’t come into the minimalist category!

    Oh whilst I’m extolling the virtues of enjoying one’s possessions on the one hand, I definitely think that dejunking is a fine idea. Fact is, Sod’s Law says you will never need that thing you stored away until the moment you sell/give it away/break it, so you might as well do it now, and preferably at a profit!

  10. O.K. I get cracking on those cupboards! However, just been to a charity shop and bought a blouse and some cups I don’t need. I think I’m a lost cause!!

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