I'm a firm believer in lifelong learning and all of that self actualization crap so in the interest of expanding my horizons I did something today that I had never previously attempted in my 40 something years on the planet. I went shopping at 5:30am on the Friday after Thanksgiving. As much as I LOVE good bargains it is a mystery, even to me, as to why I have never roused myself out of bed to go bargain hunting on black Friday before. In spite of my lofty sound of the title of this post (tongue firmly in cheek), the main reason that I went today is that I fell asleep while attempting to watch last night's episode of Ugly Betty and, therefore, because I had had so much sleep, found myself up and about at 5:00 this morning. In a moment of inspiration, I threw on some clothes and headed out to Target which is about a 5 minute drive up the street.
It actually wasn't nearly as crowded as I had expected (but then again it WAS 5:30 in the morning on a supposed work day) so the crowd was about the same as it is on a typical Sunday morning after the Target ad comes out. Inside the store, however, people were in this bizarre frenzy of buying. Literally, just about every third cart being pushed around had a 37" HDTV that was selling for $549 in it and there were still other people pushing empty carts around desperately squeezing their way into the electronics department in an effort to get one. Other people had stacks of 6 or 8+ DVD players at $25 a pop in their carts along with stacks and stacks of DVDs, and one lady was guarding the last wine cooler on the shelf like it was the Arc of the Covenant.
I just kind of wandered around and after a while it made me sad. How much stuff do we need and why have we as a society tied our concepts of love and affection around the giving of stuff? Seeing it all so nakedly on display in the dark of the morning at the Target in my decidedly lower-end-of-middle-class neighborhood just made me feel so overwhelmingly sad.
It's not like I have totally opted out of the whole gift giving at Christmas thing. I'm still a fringe participant so I still get and wrap presents for my nieces and nephew. They usually each get a book and then their mom and dad get checks for each of them that I'm hoping goes to the ballet lessons for the little one, sports fees for the boy, art classes for the second oldest, and tuition for the one in college. I also get something for my mom, but other than that I don't exchange Christmas gifts with anyone else. I wish that I could say that this is a result of a noble consciousness on my part, but the reality is that I stopped the gift exchange with my friends about 15 years ago when I just got sick and tired of the shopping and wrapping. The epiphany that finally put me over the top, however, came one year when I spent a lot of money that I didn't have on presents like a hardwood slingshot for my friends. As I wrapped it I just thought, what the hell am I doing? I'm giving H. this expensive crap which is going to sit in his closet gathering dust and in exchange he's going to give me some expensive thing that I don't need or want that will sit in mine. What are we doing??? The following year instead of exchanging gifts our group of 10 or 12 went out for a nice meal together, then we picked out a bunch of kids' wish lists from a charity tree at the mall and we went shopping for some kids that we didn't know.
I don't mean to be overly cynical (in spite of the whole "I'd rather spend Thanksgiving by myself at the movies, than go to other people's homes" post from yesterday and now this one) or overly self-congratulatory, but I just hope that people will take some time to think about what they're doing. I try really hard not to judge how other people spend their money because heaven knows I consume more than my share of the Earth's resources, but given that in the last week I've seen two different people have their credit cards declined for charges under $8.00 and statistics about how much credit card debt is now being carried by the average American, I find it hard to believe that every single one of those beautiful HDTVs was being purchased by someone who could really afford it. My family dealt with runaway debt when I was a kid and I know that being in debt just isn't a very happy way to live.
I left Target without buying anything. It wasn't a political statement. I'm not participating in some campaign. I just didn't find anything that I really needed. I guess that when I think about it, knowing that really is a gift in itself.
I hope that I'll be able to hold that thought for a while. I have enough and I really don't need anything more.
I have enough …