Sunday, July 13, 2008

Paradise You Can Own

Around this time of year - who am I kidding? This is true all through the year - I begin to dream of going on vacation. I dream of beautiful beaches with warm water. I dream of the Wyndham resort in Puerto Rico that we went to three times. I dream of tropical fruit drinks with umbrellas in them, and barechested men bringing me those drinks. Mango mojitos. Caipirinhas. Margaritas. I dream of hot rocks massages and salt scrubs. I dream of large, airy, sunny guestrooms with beds and bathrooms that are cleaned and remade by invisible staff. I dream of meals that I neither cook nor clean up after, and chocolates and clean thick towels that appear mysteriously every evening. Sometimes I even dream of owning a beach house with its own staff of quiet and efficient persons whose only job requirement is reading my mind - and then making all my vacations dreams come true.

There are a few home decor magazines that come to us in the mail on a regular basis. (The free kind. The ones that are sent because we once bought a couch someplace. Believe me, I don't ask for them.) Luxury homes with swimming pools designed by people who promise that their enclaves are "conveniently secluded." "Security with style" - with a photo of a rather tall and ominous looking fence. Showers with 12 showerheads - I have a photo of that shower beside me as I type. Offers of homes on secluded islands. Offers of islands for sale - entire islands. And ultimately, the readers of these magazines, people like me, are offered "paradise you can own." Yes, I get to own paradise.

Lest I raise my environmentally-conscious eyebrows in disdain, I come across an ad for a certain design firm that advertises thus: "Homes that make less of an impact on our environment are becoming more sought after everyday. At Swan Design, we are educating our clients on environmentally friendly design." And just so I know how creative they are, the ad informs me that they won awards in 2006 for "Best Custom Home Design over 5000 square feet" and "Best Renovation over $250,000."

Along with the perfect house comes the right car.
The right car comes with the right person who looks right in the car.
So I've gotta get/buy the perfect body, the perfect outfit, the perfect accessories.
Gotta have the whitest smile and the smoothest skin.
The flattest abs and the shiniest hair.
The highest-paying job - or jobs - to maintain it all.
The wherewithal to return to the mall or the showroom
to replace any or all of the above every three years
or a neighbor/competitor gets something new -
whichever comes first.

No need to share it. I must keep it to myself.
No need to maintain it. A private and invisible staff caters to my every whim.
No need to hold back. I can have it all. I can own it all.
No need to cut back. I can have less of an environmental impact in their 5,000 square foot home or renovate my own for more than a quarter of a million dollars - and save the planet at the same time. Why wouldn't I want it all?
No need to admit how stressful all this is to maintain. I can never let them see me sweat.

Yes, paradise I can own - at a hefty price, but it can be mine.
All mine.

Deep sigh.

Do I really need to own paradise? Do I need a house with more than 5,000 square feet? Heck, do I need the house I am already in - with its more-than-sufficient 3400 square feet? Why do I need 12 showerheads to get my one body clean? Why do I need a pool out back and a vacation home at the beach? Why the high and forboding gates? Which is the goal: to keep others out or keep me in? That invisible staff I expect to cook for and then clean up after me - those are beautiful men and women whose dreams are no less noble than my own, who deserve to rest and relax as much as, if not more than, I do. Why can't we share paradise? Why am I supposed to want all this stuff and want to keep it to myself?

When will I realize that all this exclusivity, all the stuff that I buy, hide, hoard, and keep behind locked doors and gates brings with it great loneliness and fear? The bigger the house, the more stuff I need to buy to fill it. The more stuff I buy, the more insurance and security I need. The more suspicion I need to maintain whenever someone unfamiliar steps into my neighborhood or drives down my street.

Exclusive and gated communities.
Exclusive and gated resorts.
Exclusive and gated lives.
Exclusive and gated fears and loneliness.
Is that really what I want to own?

No, I say. Throw open the gates and doors.
Let's welcome one another into our homes, our lives, our love.
Let's eat together and make our own sweet concoctions to drink.
Play games together. Tell stories to one another.
Create art and collages and jewelry together.
Pray together. Cry together.

I need to stop believing the lie that a bigger house, car, bank account or bra size will make me happier or more secure or easier to love.
Stop believing the lie that I am unworthy of love and acceptance because of my failures or frailty - unless I own the right piece of paradise.
Stop believing all the lies that say I can own paradise.

Abundant life is possible.
Joyful life is possible.
Peace-filled living is possible.
Forgiveness and restoration are possible.

But I cannot buy any of it.
I cannot own it.
I must stop trying so hard to create it for myself
- and simply receive it. Enjoy it.
It's already been done. Given. Paid for.
Paradise is already mine. Now and forever.

Jesus said it so simply: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid... These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

An oldie, but a goodie. Taken in Sevilla, Spain. October 2006.

Anybody care to join me for a joyous dance in the moonlight? This coming Saturday night up on the roof of Macy's in the heart of San Francisco - I'll have my dancing shoes on! Be there - or be square!


Laurie said...

Gail, your writing never ceases to give me a smile, a warm fuzzy feeling and sense of peace. I love the way you write. I haven't written on my blog lately. Can't find the words - too much emptiness in my heart right now. But I derive great joy in reading about yours. Until we meet some day...

Karen Maezen Miller said...

It might tickle you to know that in Old Persian, the word "paradise" originated to mean a walled garden or compound. Today we might recognize this as our own backyard. The paradise we can never find is the one in our own backyard. We already live in paradise, we already own it, we just don't notice it. Words can be so rich with obvious truth and wisdom, don't you find?

GailNHB said...

Laurie, the words will come. Perhaps from the midst of the emptiness will flow a stream of words you do not expect.

Karen, thank you for that lesson in Old Persian. Yes, it is true and obvious. All that I need and desire is right here, right now. I just want to seek "it" elsewhere, whatever it is.

jmgb said...

i will dance here, on my own doorsteps and pathways, de-constructing the mischief and lies that our culture suggests are integral to our identity.

Amy said...

I wish I could be there in SF at Blogher.

It's too bad our kids buy into this more, bigger, and better thing. Me? I crave a small home in a small community where people are not prejudiced and image is everything.

Amy said...

I meant to say image isn't everything. It's weird how you can write something and it gnaws at you all day (like my error here!).