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The bounty of simplicity

- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2008

The chilly winds of change blowing across the global economic landscape this fall have tested our threadbare garments to the point of fraying. Many of our fellow travelers find themselves losing hope that things will ever get any better. Some of us may feel at times as if there is no choice but to stop in our tracks and forsake ourselves to the fate of the dry and dusty bones littering the ground all around us. However, despite facing a bleak landscape at present, the human spirit always has a choice. Instead of giving up the ghost, we can choose to reaffirm our faith. In fact, surviving these trying times demands of us that we give thanks and praise.

Consider, if you will, that the improbable and unfathomably precious gift of our lives takes shape in a crucible of struggle. A single sperm cell, swimming along a foreign and hostile canal, pushes past the strewn corpses of millions of its fellow sojourners, to finally arrive at the ultimate prize; an unfertilized egg. Upon meeting the egg, a miraculous process ensues. The two cells combine and become instantly productive. They divide and multiply, and, in a matter of mere months, grow out of that singular union a complex and living being composed of hundreds of millions of cells. At length, we come to term. Again, a stark struggle occurs. Our mothers, in travail upon travail, bear the pain of ultimate sacrifice, approaching the very precipice of death to bring us forth, wailing and crying, into this world. Most of us have no memory of the shock and loss we experienced when we were evicted from the warm comfort of the womb to face the glaring sun for the first time. But out of such shock and awe emerges life, and for that miracle alone we must give thanks and praise.

If we then consider how far along the road we have already come, growing from a single celled organism to a fully formed human being, our present obstacles begin to diminish in size and importance. From that vantage point, we can more easily envision a time when we will be employed again; we gain enough perspective to foresee the eventual return of customers to our businesses. When considering the fact that so many others have fallen along the path, we begin to feel especially blessed to be still standing, breathing, and walking. At this point, we have reframed our perception of struggle into a purposeful pursuit of progress. So, we draw our cloaks close around our bodies, reaffirm our faith, and march on, giving thanks and praise along the way.

As we gain perspective and reaffirm our faith, obstacles in our path start to seem less obstructive and more instructive. Instead of complaining about our empty gas tanks, we begin to appreciate the benefits of walking, biking or taking the bus to work. After all, most of us could stand to become a bit more physically fit. Walking to work provides us with such an opportunity. Similarly, taking the bus may relieve the stress of navigating morning traffic jams, and give us time to plan our day more effectively. Instead of arriving at work flustered over the commute, we enter the workplace rested, and ready to get down to business. For those of us who have been laid off, we can also use that time constructively. As we search for the next opportunity, we can see beyond the constricting bonds of our previous profession, and open ourselves to opportunities in other sectors of the economy. Moreover, we can spend more time working on personal projects; perhaps developing an interest in painting, calligraphy or cabinet making. By the time we do find work again, we may find ourselves reluctantly parting with a life of simplicity and grace. We begin to discover just how much we have to be thankful for, and praise the source of such abundance.

Perhaps the most valuable benefit of times of struggle comes from the way it forces us to decide which things we most value. Faced with less buying power, we tend to spend only on those things that create the most satisfaction, and thus press more enjoyment out of each dollar spent. Do you really need cable television? Don't you derive more joy from engaging in conversations with friends, or curling up on the couch with a good book? Do you find that cooking a simple and nutritious meal at home often beats going out to an expensive restaurant?Doesn't preparing your own food bring with it intrinsic benefits that you hadn't previously considered? Instead of planning that vacation abroad, aren't there wonders to behold in your own city and neighboring communities? Therefore, give thanks and praise for the simple pleasures and undervalued joys of life.

Such is the paradox of abundance that, properly considered, less often ends up being much, much more. But to experience these bountiful ironies, we must open our eyes and fortify our hearts, even as the headlines tell us that the sky is falling. If those predictions are in fact true, all it means is that it will soon be easier to reach the clouds. We must then give thanks and praise for the blessing of being able to place our hands upon the boundary of our imagination.

Armstrong Williams' column for The Washington Times appears on Mondays.