Ed and I are fixing to have company. I’ve sensed this for a long time, but only recently has the sense become so strong. Every day, as the news folks crunch the numbers on Wall Street, the housing market, and other indicators of the economy, I know that in increasingly larger numbers, more people will be coming to join us - on the Journey to Simplicity.

Of course, there’s Voluntary Simplicity and there’s Kicking and Dragging Simplicity, and I suspect the latter will be a big driving force in the exodus from consumerism, but that’s OK. Harder, but OK.

I suspect more and more of these people are waking up to the fact that maybe they are spending foolishly, maybe they are living beyond their means, maybe they’ve never taken time to examine their priorities, maybe they bought too much into advertising telling them what they “need,” or maybe it’s just a case of people living a normal American middle-class life, not excessive but comfortable, buying within reason what they wanted to, traveling when they wanted to, not having to take a calculator to shop for groceries, indulging their kids a little (or a lot), knowing the bills will get paid on time, having fun buying Christmas presents - I mean, that sounds like a good, agreeable way to live. I should know; I’ve been there. I’m not talking about excessive opulence here. I’m just describing the typical, comfortable, relatively anxiety-free life many of us have had. Until now.

Some folks who never had to cut corners are cutting corners. Some folks who have been cutting corners all along will have to cut even more corners. Some folks don’t even have a corner to cut.

So, with the understanding that Ed and I are no experts and still have a lot of road to travel to Simplicity, we have a piece of starting advice for those joining us on the journey: Take a few minutes of deep breathing to absorb the panic and anxiety, sit down with a nice cup of hot tea and a notebook or tablet, and make a list of your priorities. Because money is not the only thing in the balance here. We spend money, yes, but we also spend energy, time and resources on our priorities. How much more productive can I use my money, energy, time and resources? What is very important to me and what is not so important? Where do I make cuts? See, everyone has his/her own perspective on this. For me, having my high-speed cable internet is important. It is the way I communicate with my family and friends, the way I send and receive pictures, the way I pay my bills, the way I find free software and patterns, and the way I browse the newspaper since I canceled newspaper delivery. I would eat peanut butter for a week if it allowed me to keep my internet. For others, they don’t give a hoot about the internet; maybe their priority is organic food, and they eat less in general to be able to afford it. For others, their books are their precious commodities, and they might be willing to eat whatever is on sale so they can have money to buy books. It may be a special hobby or interest that others deem a priority, and these folks are willing to scrimp and save in other areas in order to engage in that. Others are willing to sacrifice little pleasures if it means being closer to sending their kid to college. Still others want to be able to spend time with family, if that means no new clothes this year.

I’m not here to give a lecture on cutting expenses. I am here to say that this is one task you can’t designate to someone else - a financial adviser, your pastor, or even your savvy second cousin. Establishing your priorities is the first step on the Journey to Simplicity and it has to be done by you. I’m warning you this is not an easy task. Do you know how it feels to look at your face in a magnifying makeup mirror? Seeing the wrinkles, imperfections, blemishes, sagging? Well, looking at your life from Simplicity’s point of view is exactly like that. You see the waste, the excesses, the “What was I thinking?!!” purchases. It’s not pretty, but it has to be done.

It has to be done because one just can’t jump into this journey unprepared. Simplicity’s road is long. Simplicity’s road is bumpy. It has twists and turns and sometimes you feel totally lost. Sometimes it curves back on itself and you have to go over the exact same path again! Sometimes you’re walking in rain and storms, and at other times, the view is so beautiful that it will make you cry. Some parts are so shaky and unpredictable that holding hands with someone is the only way to get through them.

So to all the people who are eyeing this incredible road: Welcome! We’re just taking baby steps, going slowly. There are many people who are traveling this road who have certainly sped past us, and others behind us whom we are trying to encourage. It used to be more of “the road not taken,” but I think in the near future it will get pretty crowded. To all of us - May the wind be at our backs!

The Wait

What is it like to be in the critical care waiting room of a trauma center?

9. 1. 5. 9. Those are the only numbers that matter in the critical care waiting room, because they are the only times the patients can have visitors and only then for one hour. Everyone in the waiting room plans his or her schedule according to those four times - 9:00, 1:00, 5:00, and 9:00. As infrequent as it is, it is still the only hope and comfort one has to look forward to in this pale yellow room with hard green chairs and gray paisley recliners. There are 3 TVs and lots of magazines scattered about in the room, but all eyes are mostly on the big clock at the front desk. The room is constantly occupied, so much so that they have to close it down for a few hours every Thursday morning just to clean.

Look around - this room holds many people, and with each person is another story - of tragedy, trauma, infection, coma, and death. So many stories. So many tears.

There are some smiles and laughter, of course. There has to be, for the worried ones could not survive without a break in the anxiety. Some of those worried ones have been living in the waiting room for months. Their suitcases and myriad bags tell of the many nights they have slept in recliners, and the many mornings they have shuffled into the bathroom to take a shower. There are hair brushes and toothbrushes and all the signs of personal hygiene. There is not much privacy here. No one worries about snoring or being seen with dirty hair or no makeup. On the contrary, instead of embarrassed strangers, they are a family, not for the most part with ties of blood, but with ties of suffering and hope, pain and recovery. They share a bond, they ask about each other's loved ones, rejoicing in any sign of improvement, no matter how small. They relate how long they have been "living" in this room. Here background or race doesn't matter. Understanding, though, does.

Every visitor has to first sign in at the desk and get a photograph taken for a sticker ID. This photograph is worse than a driver's license photograph, worse than a passport photograph. We pass the time trying to figure out whose picture is the worst. It is as if the camera purposefully chooses the most horrible perspective in order to mirror the mood of the wearer. After a few hours, the ID expires and you have to get a new one printed out. The photograph never expires, though. It is there forever.

Visitors wear this ID all day. When a CCU visitor passes another person in the hospital wearing the ID, both people smile in empathy. They might recognize each other from the waiting room; they might not. It doesn't matter. You are one of us. I am one of you. We know our priorities. One priority is our sick loved one, and the other is the clock which gives us those short hours we live for. 9, 1, 5, 9.

Every so often the ring of a telephone jars the quiet conversation. Everything stops. The books, the TVs, the cell phones - all are placed on hold as a clerk or visitor answers the phone and yells out the family's name. Your heart tries to beat out of your chest. Is it the doctor bringing bad news? No, it's not for you. You've been granted a reprieve. You can try to relax until the next time the phone rings.

After a few days, you realize that some recliners are off limits, because they are being used by the "regulars" who have made the waiting room their home. This tradition is given great respect. It reminds me a little of going to church, where certain people have their usual pews. Except these people sleep there and eat there with their bags of cookies and chips and snacks and sodas. It's almost like a camping trip, except you are so totally exhausted and anxious and worried. Beyond exhausted.

If the phone is not ringing, the choppers are landing overhead or an ambulance rushes past. There's been another wreck or another fire and the trauma center again does what it does best.
This is a place where nobody really wants to be. It doesn't matter, because you have to be there. You get through another day, help one more person find the elevators or the cafeteria, and then at 10:00 p.m. you go to the desk and receive your blankets and pillow. You snuggle down, trying to find a comfortable position in an uncomfortable recliner, and fitfully sleep. Occasionally another family comes in the waiting room in the middle of the night and moves chairs around so they can be together. The choppers and ambulances never completely go away. Morning comes before you know it, and it's time to wait your turn with the shower, the sink, or the toilets, get some breakfast, and start watching the clock. 9, 1, 5, 9. Those are the only numbers that matter.