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  • Writer's picturePeter VanderPoel

The Fabric of Meaning

Voltaire ended his novel, 'Candide' with the admonition, "Il faut cultiver notre jardin."-We must tend to our gardens, suggesting that taking care of our immediate needs is good enough. This notion seems to parallel the act of "mindfulness' which is defined in Psychology Today as an active, open attention on the present.

When our family buys food at the grocery store, it is eaten, or not; saved, or not. When it comes from our garden or has been canned in our kitchen, it assumes a higher rank. I spent calories growing and storing these calories and I expect them to be respected. We waste much less food when it comes from the backyard, because I know what we have in store is not infinite. It feels more grounded (literally) and stable to grow food in the garden and being able to preserve it.

Practically all of our tea towels were woven by my sister. Whenever I pick one up to clean up, I appreciate her, her work and it's value in executing the everyday routine. These towels, however are not shirkers; they are not spared so that they will last forever. The beauty is in appreciating them while they are taking part in the doing what needs to be done; a task that is made more meaningful by the use of a towel crafted by a loved one.

If something I use constantly wears out or breaks, I appreciate how long it has lasted and would willingly purchase an exact replacement if it has served me well. I once owned a retractable fountain pen; it was red. One day I clicked the button to retract the tip, released it and the button and connecting rod shot out of the pen barrel and past my head. My first emotion was not anger at it's demise, but gratitude realizing how long I owned it and how many 'clicks' it flawlessly performed.

The life span of some of my shirts is another example. Many are of heavy cotton. They are worn until the collar frays, then the collar is turned at the tailors. Once the elbows give out it is transformed into a short-sleeve shirt. When the collar frays again or it's grievously torn, it becomes a rag to clean paint brushes or is torn into strips to tie-up tomato plants.

So, I would offer a slightly different take on William Morris's admonition: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful, or find meaningful.

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