Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Where is my luxury?

A few months ago my sweet Grandma died. She was in her nineties, the exact number being in dispute because she knows (I'm sorry, knew) she was named for a statue brought to her little Italian village the year she was born. Her birth certificate said differently. Who even cares, right?

Since her death a few things have come up and they've really made me change the way I think about my own life and my place in other people's lives. Some things are far too personal to put here, or anywhere else in fact. Some of the lessons will reside in my heart and mind - just for me. But one particular thing happened today and has stayed with me all day. And THIS lesson wants to be out.

My Grandma Rita was a woman of meager finances. And few material wants. She grew up in the early 1900's, in Italy, with less than nothing: not much food, very few clothes, no fancy furniture or luxury items. She really grew up in what we would consider almost abject poverty. She had a potato for a doll at one point!! This kind of life delivered a woman who worked hard, took exceptional care of the belongings she did have and gave her a solid grasp of what is needed to be happy. In fact, I don't think she cared much about the difference between want and need because, in her estimation, if your needs are filled what's left to want?

But after she died I went into her bedroom and saw something rather remarkable on her dresser. It made me stop right there in my tracks.

A bottle of (almost empty) Chanel No. 5 perfume.

I brought it home and put it on my own dresser where it has remained until today. Today I opened it up and put some on. A few lessons were learned VERY QUICKLY. They are as follows:

1- No matter what else anyone thinks, for me, Chanel No. 5 smells like old ladies. Because as it turns out Grandma always wore Chanel No. 5. And so the smell of this perfume makes me think of a sweet Italian lady, serving mounds of al dente pasta and giving me espresso soaked sugar cubes.

2- My grandmother always had one lavish indulgence in her possession, for as long as I ever knew her.

3- I am a spoiled rotten brat of a white girl living in the glut of self-pity and envy that is the current climate of middle-class American society.

Here's the thing. I can't look at my life and find one single thing that FEELS like this perfume must have felt to her. There is no place for me to rest my thoughts where I feel decadent and pampered like no other. Everywhere I look in my life I see excess, and consumerism gone awry. I have the newest phone, the newest laptop, the fashionable designer jeans, the boots that everyone else has, the jewelry that I see in magazines and on TV...you know, the flat screen HDTV I'm supposed to have. My whole life is a veneer of having it all.

And what I'm missing is feeling like any single one thing counts for more than its surface quality. I've spent all day thinking about what I possess, about how the things I own make me feel when I touch them or use them. There is nothing that comes readily to mind that imparts a feeling of lavishness or decadence. There is so much all the time that none of it has any deep meaning. So among all of the lessons my grandmother taught me in her long and wonderful life of poverty and grace, she has left a very valuable lesson in death.

I doubt she knew that her Chanel No. 5 was going to be a gift to me, that this small bottle of mostly used perfume would teach me so much about gratitude, but it has. Because when I put it on my neck this morning, I felt like maybe I was being extravagant - using something with very a finite amount. No matter how many other bottles I might ever buy, only this one will be the one she looked upon and used as a small, delicious luxury. And so it felt like a small, delicious luxury to me.

And now I want less. So that I can have more.