It was about 4pm. Too early for dinner, and too late to go out anywhere, when just getting the kids to put their shoes on and climb in the car can take 20 minutes. None of the toys at home were holding the kids’ attention. So I proposed we go down to the beach for a quick walk.
As it always does for the kids, amazingly so, the simple walk turned into an adventure–usually a hunt for unusual shells. That day, it was also a drawing session. The six-year-old would draw her figures, only to watch, half distressed and half amused, as a wave would rush up and wash half of them away. Then she would begin again, unperturbed by concepts such as time or effort wasted.
I watched the two of them, taking pure joy in this simple walk, and feeling that joy myself. In our “regular” lives, an hour like this would have been hard to find. So full did we keep our days, between the necessities of running a household and the multitude of involvements (social, professional, etc.) that I never had time–never made time–for things like an aimless walk at dusk (setting aside, for the moment, that Columbus lacks an ocean shore on which to take said walk).
Lent season is almost over now. Simplicity, everything pared down to its essence, seems to have been the theme, appropriately so for me. Spiritually, it has been a time of reflection and questioning, but mostly of soaking in the care with which God has kept us. Not every day has been easy, being so far from family and loved ones, and navigating new rules, professionally and socially. But we have always felt God’s Hand, protecting when we worried, holding when we needed comfort. It’s a very simple idea, but no less powerful for it.
Materially, it has also been a season of simplicity. Preparing Lent meals (all vegan) is always a challenge for me, I will admit. But when you take away my crutches of international grocery stores, really good restaurants, and a work schedule that before had at least allowed my husband to prepare a good share of dinners, what we were left with this Lent was a whole lot of potatoes (which thankfully, the kids invariably enjoy). Roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes (baked and roasted), more roasted potatoes, even mashed potatoes (but that was one of his creations). My six year old always reminds me when she sees them that my father loved potatoes; perhaps he did precisely because of their comforting simplicity. (Note to Mom: don’t worry, I feed the kids animal protein too.)
And perhaps this theme of simplicity was just a continuation of a theme I had pseudo-consciously began when we first embarked on this Australia adventure. After all, even my choices in what clothes to bring was an exercise in paring down: eight t-shirts, two dressy shirts, three pairs of shorts, four skirts, two dresses, and three pairs of sandals (my “winter” wardrobe is warmer clothes, but just about the same quantities). For some of you readers, this may seem totally reasonable. For others, it will seem shockingly spartan, and I would have agreed with you a few years ago. But I had also begun really reflecting on what we really need versus what we are told we need, and this year away was a good chance to test some of those so-called needs.
Food and clothing are, of course, the universal and every-day examples, but our daily habits are ripe with areas in which we can simplify. The Matrix, it turns out, is a more apt analogy for our lives than we often realize. How we choose to spend our concentration and effort (and consequently time) shapes the lives we end up leading. Speaking for myself, I’ve said “no” too infrequently, accepted society’s “must” rules too willingly, and generally signed up for too much too often. It is only in stepping out of it for a time that I have been able to ask myself what things deserved my effort and attention, and why. I wasn’t doing that nearly enough; there’s a reason we were so busy all the time.
On that dusk walk along the beach, we did happen to find something green glittering under a wave’s foam. When we picked it up, we found it was a piece of what looked like green glass, its edges worn smooth by the sand and other ocean forces. I wondered about its former life, perhaps as a bottle of something. Regardless, now and here, it was a found trinket, beautiful in its simplicity, like this day had been.