Back to Basics: Living with "Voluntary Simplicity"
It's dinnertime when we leave the Meers' cabin. Kristen and I decide to find a hotel. We have not made a reservation, preferring the enlivening randomness of spontaneity. After all, this is Orlando, a tourist Mecca. Finding a modest hotel should be as easy as crossing the street. Ninety minutes of interstate driving later, we grasp our misjudgment.
"I do want more meaning in my life," I think. I do crave the freedom of less. But right now, I am exhausted. I stink of marsh and hummus. And I have to pee. I am a single mom, riding with another single mom, on possibly the only free night we will have for months. "Call information," I tell Kristen. "And ask for the address of the nearest Ritz-Carlton."
Kristen shoots me a look.
"You'll get a bath!" I add. "With bubbles. And wine."
She dials. With gusto, I might add. It occurs to me that sometimes the simplest thing to do is to treat yourself.
The next day, back in her tiny cottage in northern Florida, Kristen has decided to unload even more furniture. The space feels crowded, she says. And how many places do you need to park your butt, anyway?
"Depends on the butt," I say.
Kristen squints and hands me a chair. She says she has been having a struggle with her daughter, Ellie. She has told Ellie all about the importance of soil, of reducing waste, of the impact on the environment, about consumerism. "But you know, those are pretty big concepts for an 8-year-old. Especially one who only really wants new school clothes."
Even so, Kristen is confident she made the right choice for her family. "At first there was a lot of 'I'm bored.' They didn't have their own rooms, or a million toys, or computers. But since then, we've found games to play, we go for walks, we talk more, we lie in bed and draw, we are literally closer together."
Kristen is also healthier. No more sleeping pills. No more antidepressants. Her journal wish list is coming true.
And then there are the nights when she cooks dinner and, through her open windows, hears the sound of her children running in the woods, the piercing, manic joy of kids throwing stones and kicking leaves and squealing at ghosts behind every windblown tree. "When I hear them playing outside, I think, "This is exactly what I wanted. This is the experience I was looking for."
She runs her fingers through her short, graying hair. Her face is calm, relaxed.
"Some people say one person can't make a difference, but I like that expression about how throwing one sea horse back in the ocean makes a big difference to that sea horse. I wanted to sleep at night knowing I'd done my part."
She smiles, wistful for a moment. "I do miss sleeping in my own room."
"That would certainly make some things simpler," I say with a wink.
We laugh. And then the two of us walk outside to the garden, talking about whether or not we'd have sex with Bill Maher, and winter flowers, and what sort of old ladies we'll be, all the while consuming nothing but the easy joy of each other's company.