the value of a moment.

13145a99f1db93827395b3771f6dec89The “value” of something these days is too often taken as monetary.  There is such a thing as becoming too sentimental about something, but I see too much of the opposite.  I hear kids whine about how “stupid” a learning activity is or how “lame” going to grandma’s is when they were just about to pass level 50 on their video game and were interrupted.  (Won’t they see the value in those moments when they’re gone?)  No one seems to enjoy “doing it by hand” anymore and, if they do, it’s because it’s trendy.  They don’t see a gain in putting their time in.  Time is money.  Everything’s about money, about attaining that “easy life”.  (Again, I think of Miranda Lambert’s song Automatic.)  And because everything is made automatically by machines and with cheaper, lighter materials, we see more affordable items of lesser quality more readily available to, well, everyone.

There’s not as much value in something just because everyone needs to have it, and so a cheap solution is made up so that everyone can.  Even iPhones and Instagram seem to make my photography less enjoyable when I feel like I could shoot a pretty good picture with just a phone, and everyone has an iPhone.  It’s kind of like sugar, once a rare thing of high demand that suddenly was cheapened so it was available to everyone – and now we can’t get away from the damned stuff.  I look back on the things stashed away in our barn that came from my grandparents’ house and I just see so many things that were actually authentic, metal, wood, not cheap plastic that just gets thrown out when it breaks.

Yesterday, I went to go look at a Starr upright piano that came with the house a lady bought and she doesn’t want it anymore.  She’s had offers to scrap it, but she didn’t think that was the right thing to do – and I’m glad.  The piano is absolutely beautiful, although it could use a little work – which I am definitely willing to do.  It’s about 110 years old, completely original, and only one key doesn’t work well.  I asked her why no one wants it.  She just doesn’t play piano; everyone else, well it’s way too heavy and it’s not a Steinway.  Starr only produced pianos between 1849 and 1949 out of Indianapolis.  At it’s best times, 18,000 pianos were being made per year.  Starr won some pretty prestigious awards in the 1890s which are displayed on painted decals across the piano.  In my research, I’ve found that this piano has the potential of a $70,000 value – or at least it should.  However, people struggle to get $10,000 for it considering how heavy it is.  I see most sold for even less than that.  This one?  Free.  But that’s because the cursed thing is made out of wood, wood, wood, metal, ropes, and wood.  Lots of good quality wood.  Much heavier than plastic and aluminum, and that’s why no one wants an old, not-Steinway, obsolete piano made of wood.

When I mentioned the piano to a friend, all he could see was the money value in it.  Well, I see more value in giving it a life and letting it age further.  It’s a piano, and I want it to be used as such – not scrapped for parts and fuel.  This thing has some serious character.  But so many people fail to appreciate character.  They just see money, trendy, glamorous,… and they turn their noses up at the idea of having to put time in to move something like this piano, especially when it’s not already in mint condition.  They don’t see the value and pride in time spent doing something with your hands.  But what will they say in 100 years, when the Starr pianos have all been chopped up and burned away??  They’ll lament the “good ole days”, probably the same way they would have lamented a nice slab of buffalo meat had they actually pushed the buffaloes into extinction.

Ironically, I had these thoughts on the same day that I watched a movie with a similar theme.  My friend had mentioned Creator, a 1985 film that I had never heard of but decided to check out anyway.  It’s about this research professor who can’t get over the loss of his wife 30 years prior, so he’s hired a student to help him regrow her through a cloning process.  During the course of the movie, the professor becomes transfixed with his project despite having a new woman around.  The student, hoping to understand “The Big Picture”, falls in love with a girl who nearly dies.  The professor sees this all play out and finally comes to term with the hard parts of life and how moments that are fleeting have value because they are fleeting, so sometimes you just have to let go of the ones that are gone.  The juxtaposition of his dead love, possible future love, and the student’s fragile love really makes you see how you must identify and indulge in good things when they’re there because they won’t be for nearly as long as you’d hope.

And finally, it also occurred to me how frightening it would be if we really kept cheapening and devaluing everything in life.  Machines are already replacing human labor.  In some aspects, I want to see this as efficient and effective.  In other aspects, it scares me.  What is the need of a workforce at all if it can just be replaced?  If, in the future, people are able to do what the professor tried to do and can grow whatever person they want…well then what is the value of a life anymore?  Oh, sorry, I accidentally shot your friend…we’ll just grow a new one.  ….It kind of reminds me of what I was saying before, when something breaks these days because it’s cheap and you can just replace it with another cheap thing.  Maybe the “good ole” days are already gone, and now I’m just starting to see the value because it’s all just memories…

I feel like this has been a classic scatterbrain entry, so I will attempt to redeem myself with some photos from my Pinterest feed of little thoughts and little things that make up a happy life if you’re little enough to see them – so enjoy:

43a249ae646861d34833a4a72c5ce26f 577d081575388f3990b9ddb13efcbe24 817a3bc367776306b48b2e01a1445fbd b7446679f35a464626e20bbc139397fe ba2da5073ba6c19c217199564fbe082b bfb554566e4f802bc05f7121620b9aec c3187b379d48d0d277d9394a549af800 c56478ece7801f97c6090881079742bb ca7e541df8b0ff91d1809df012e8eb11 cad267ce9c20b1aaaca16b7f11606526 ce0d9984a6f833d588e946c3afff064e f534a8cc562f4d06160110577cb0e911 fa463d2b715205bc14bb7a07d134c35b

 

a time and a place, and oranges.

I remember all of the lectures growing up, how “there’s a time and a place for everything”. The three taboos in my household were simple – Do not discuss with others:
1. Religion
2. Politics
or 3. The boy you like.
It seemed pretty simple at the time, but then society taught me a plethora of news ones.

Growing up, I learned the hard way that pants and shoes are required in public, that you’re not supposed to ask family members if they bought you something for Christmas, and that telling someone loudly that they have food on their face can lead to their sudden embarrassment when the rest of the room turns to look.

As I got older, these social rules became tighter. My private school had fine dining for lunch and all of the formalities that accompanied it. There was a time and a place to gross my friends out with my chewed up food, to eat with my hands, to slouch, to not wait for the prayer before eating, to fling peas into the ceiling tiles, or to talk incessantly – and this meal time was not the time, an this dining hall was not the place. Especially if the school headmaster or stringent Latin teacher was heading your table assignment.

I was always challenged by being kind to those who were not kind to me in high school. I was told to not speak ill of those who, I knew, were speaking ill of me behind my back. There was a time and a place to say how I feel, and it was either at home, in secrecy, or never at all.

In college and in my professional life, it feels like there is never a time or a place. I’m always being watched, I’m always on my toes, I’m always trying to make friends but also keep on top, and I’m always being evaluated.

But what I want to know is, if there is a time and a place for everything, then why does it only apply to social etiquette??

This occurred to me as I was sitting in a meeting and noticed someone had a coffee mug koozy with a plug coming out of it. I thought, that takes a little out of the moment, doesn’t it? When I pour a mug of hot tea, part of enjoying the moment is knowing it’s temporary.

When I was younger, my Grandma M. would tell me that her most memorable Christmas gift growing up was an orange.

“It was the most expensive gift I had ever had. No one could get oranges in December without paying an arm and a leg for it. And now look at all of these rotting oranges getting thrown out of the grocer’s.”

I’m constantly frustrated by the juxtaposition in modern American society of do this, be that, follow these deadlines to the Verizon Wireless minute on one side of the coin, then be lazy, use energy like it grows on trees, and waste things. How is it we have to put on this façade of being one way socially, but we can be immoral, unappreciative people behind closed doors?

I want everything I do to be an orange. I want to know not just its
value but also its worth. I don’t want to live with this American mentality that things are disposable and easily replaced. I don’t want to live with an undeserving sense of entitlement. I won’t treat myself to something special just to soothe tugs of nostalgia but rather I will appreciate its absence and honor its time and place

And I will never look at an orange the same way again.

worth.

I have volunteered on projects my whole life, whether it’s a cleanup, fundraising, habitat for humanity, or construction work with Engineers Without Borders. I’ve slowly come to realize, as I’ve said before, how much money might have value, but time has something more. Not only is personal involvement more, well, personal, but it has an unmeasurable amount of worth to those affected.

How do you measure the worth of something? Well, it’s all relative.

When I was standing in a dusty yard in a small Cameroonian village watching children kick a torn soccer ball and I pulled little Belinda aside to give her a slightly used pair of lady’s shoes, no dollar sign could represent the emotion she had for the shoes. She literally grabbed my arms in shock, timidly put a shoe to her foot – a perfect fit –
then flat out collapsed in my arms and tucked her legs into the air. There I was, standing against a wall, holding a dangling child by my forearms who was so humbled by a simple gift that she buried her face in my stomach and couldn’t even look me in the eye. Then she grabbed the bag and ran home to her hut faster than an American child to an ice cream truck on a hot summer day.

How do you measure that?
Shoes, $50.
Visa, $140.
Plane ticket, $1,864.

Or…
Time spent in Cameroon, 3 weeks.
Time spent on project, thousands of hours.
The look on her face, UNMEASURABLE.

When I paid twice the price for a loaf of bread in Ouidah, Benin, the grandmother who couldn’t even speak French communicated by the happy tears in her eyes and her clasped hands. For an extra 200 francs. Or 40 cents.

Playing games with the children in the village last year…and then returning over a year later to the same children, slightly taller, wearing the same clothes (just more tattered), screaming my name and dancing the dances I taught them. Priceless. Their joy, for nothing, with so much worth.

Even better than the feeling of feeding the poor and sitting with them on Thanksgiving is taking a tag off of the Salvation Army tree, putting serious effort in picking the best gifts for the anonymous wishes, then dropping the bag off. You don’t know where it goes, they’ll never know who you are, and that secrecy feels so selfless that it’s selfish. And worth a LOT.

But even more simply, sitting here on a worksite, on a cold Sunday morning, covered in mud, one has a new appreciation for the DuPont suits given to the workers. They work so hard and so long, harder than I, and they are overwhelmingly appreciative when I give out company stickers for their hard hats. Because they earned it. Because it’s their badge of honor. But it’s just a silly sticker that I have complained about so often, one that is such an awkward shape that it doesn’t stick smoothly to the plastic. But things mean so much more when you’re a dedicated immigrant, happy to have a job and to live in America.

Finally, myself.

This is the kicker, my self-worth. How I measure myself. Well, how I have beenmeasuring my worth and not even realizing it.

Social media. How many likes I get. And it’s not just me! So many friends I talk to agree, we evaluate ourselves by the feedback we get when we put ourselves out there on social media.

I post something I love. I get little to no likes. On Facebook. On Instagram. Retweets or favorites on Twitter. Views on this blog.

My worth becomes the quantity of likes I receive. The quality? Some of these people I don’t even know…yet I still do it…

I compare myself.
He has more likes. She ALWAYS gets likes. What does that mean?? Do I have less friends? Am I not as interesting or popular or loved?? What does it mean???

It shouldn’t mean anything, but I have to admit that it means everything. Whether I want it to or not. And I hate it.

But at the same time, when I put something out there that I think is meaningless or controversial…. And people take my side – that is so incredibly empowering.

I guess we just need to get a grip on what something is worth, lest we continue to harm ourselves or under-appreciate things that could be a total game changer to someone else.