Friday, October 1, 2010

Bargains are good but memories are priceless

Last weekend, I stopped at an auction, edging my way into a garage packed full of boxes and piled high with almost anything you can imagine—a vintage cherry pitter, crumbling hat boxes, dusty books, lamps, tools, picture frames, and linens. Auction novice that I am, I could feel my pulse quicken and heat rising in my face as I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other buyers, clutching my bidder number in my clammy hands.
I bid on, and won, a number of items, at prices that made me inwardly congratulate myself. It wasn’t until hours after I got home and unloaded my things that my buying high started to dissipate.
I didn’t overspend, and I scored some interesting and useful finds, but now I had four full boxes of stuff that I had to sort through, clean, and find a place to put. More than that, it was strange to think about how it might feel someday to have all of my belongings laid out on a table for strangers to scoop up at the highest bid. And the initial novelty of buying something new can fade so quickly that it’s almost shocking.
The auction helped to remind me (again) that ultimately, it’s not possessions, but experiences I add to my life that give me the most pleasure. The contrast—between the short-lived buzz of spending money and the lasting satisfaction of rich experiences—seems that much more poignant when I reflect on how I spent the rest of that weekend with my family.
I watched as my children darted around a free kids’ carnival, with a face-painting booth and enough jumpy-type toys to leave them laughing and breathless. Later, my 4-year-old son got to indulge one of his truest loves: balloons. He stared in awe as he watched ballooners set up for an early-morning launch, literally squirming with excitement. I have a dozen photographs that capture the pure joy he felt in being so close to something that lives large in his world.
Amazingly, he still had enough energy to join the rest of the family on an afternoon hike on a trail near our house. He and his siblings rambled along uneven paths and collected sticks, shiny rocks, and brilliant, red rose hips. The baby bumped along happily in her stroller. We all collapsed into our beds, enjoying the kind of rest that only comes from this kind of tired.
We hit yet another nature trail the next day, where we navigated a bridge so high it made my stomach lurch and where we followed the path to the sounds of rushing water. The image of my ever-determined 2-year-old negotiating the slippery side hill by himself is still fresh in my mind. So is the feeling I had when we rounded the last bend of the path to see a cascading waterfall. We were close enough to feel the misty spray, offering cool relief on a warm fall day.
I reflect on these moments with such detail because they are etched into my mind, because they are already powerful memories, and because I want to remind myself that what I truly want is to invest my time and money in relationships and experiences.
As poet Carl Sandburg once quipped, “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent . . .” How do you want to spend yours?

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