Gilgamesh, whither are you wandering?
Life which you wish for, you will never find.
For when the gods created man they let death be his share,
and withheld life in their own hands.
Gilgamesh, fill your belly; day and night make merry, let days be
full of joy.
Dance and make music, and wear fresh clothes, and wash your head and
Look at the child that is holding your hand ...
These things alone are the concern of men.
-- From the Akkadian epic
I gave up my dream, just in time for Thanksgiving.
Unlike Gilgamesh, the ancient king who roamed the world seeking
immortality, I did not dream of living forever. I simply dreamed of
Henry David Thoreau's suggestion, "simplify, simplify," has dwelled in
my head since high school, when I was running around from classes, to
sports, to choir, to my part-time job; and since college, when I was
running around from classes, to the school paper, to membership in
various clubs, to dating various guys.
Since Navy wife days, when I was moving from Florida to California to
Greece, packing, unpacking, socializing, touring, and being a mother;
then forward into the return to civilian life in Massachusetts, where I
became a taxpayer activist.
The next 30 years were spent running from petition drives to debates to
media outlets to a small, cluttered office in downtown Boston.
With Republican governors we had help with "eternal vigilance," so
vacations were possible; living out of a knapsack provided a taste of
living simply. I even recall with pleasure the peaceful times spent
recovering from surgery, or back in Pennsylvania caring for my aging
parents in their last days. Always there was "the dream" -- someday,
when I lived alone, when the constant attention required by my job had
eased, I would take the time to organize my house, my life, my
ever-distracted mind. I would walk and sing every day. I would meditate.
Now that I work from home, there's been time for gardening and
recreational reading (both, apparently a priority over meditation). But
still, in the small combination office-home, there's been clutter and
chaos ... until last summer, when my cat died. My visiting son removed
the litter box, moved the furniture that had been arranged for the cat's
convenience, then started on the boxes piled everywhere.
After he left, I continued the simplification project, enjoying the
peace of living alone. In the back of my mind was a golden tabby cat.
But I liked the new smell of the house -- no litter, no snubbed cat
food; nothing underfoot or needing care.
Then in mid-October, a stray golden tabby wandered into friends' country
yard, where other lost cats had already settled. I named him Gilgamesh
-- partly because he was wandering, and partly because it's good to
reflect constantly on the mortality of one's cat, lest one be upset by
its natural passing.
At my age, it's good to reflect on one's own mortality as well, and to
fill one's days with joy. Funny how a cat helps with that.
So the furniture is moved back for the cat's convenience, and the litter
box is in the hall. Gilly hunts the mouse in the cellar, watches the
squirrels from the screened porch and the birds from the kitchen table.
Some of my free time is spent petting him, instead of sorting through
boxes and trying to organize my life. If I try to sing or meditate, he
is there -- on the lap, in the face.
I know I am not the only one who has dreamed of simplicity, of a life
unencumbered by clutter, by messy relationships, or cans in the sink and
litter tracked through the house. However, these things I also know:
1) My life, looking back, was always much less complicated than the
lives of younger women today. I had one child, and didn't work full-time
until he was 14. I can't imagine how anyone works full-time while caring
for two or more children. I lived most of my life without cell phones,
computers and cable TV. There were fewer choices, of everything from
lifestyles to cereals.
2) Simplicity is overrated. Our ancestors lived simple lives as
hunter-gatherers, and they died young.
3) There are people who are born with simplicity in their souls. No
matter what is going on around them, they are serene and organized. I
could have learned valuable lessons from them years ago. I could have
started meditating in high school. I could have become a Buddhist. I
could have bought fewer things, never had a kid or cat, and lived in a
cabin in the woods like Thoreau.
4) Every year at Thanksgiving, I am grateful for everything about my
life, from the occasional simple experience to the depth and richness of
all of it. And, of course, I'm grateful for the simplicity dream, which
is fun to fantasize but might be somewhat barren if fully realized.
Also this year, I'm grateful for my new cat. Gilgamesh and I will fill
our bellies all weekend, and enjoy our lives. These things alone are the
concern of men and cats.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.