It is often considered a defining characteristic of Millennials that we value experiences over possessions. We would rather fund a trip around the world than put a down payment on a house. Utilitarian mason jars perfect for picnics usurp fine china and fresh-pressed tablecloths. A jacket from the thrift store is worth the possibilities of the pocket money leftover.
Growing up in the wake of the Great Recession has taught us to be wary of sinking our money into things and encouraged us to invest instead in swashbuckling friendships and far-flung adventures, in social circles and Bermuda Triangles.
So what happens when the next recession erodes not only our 401ks but also floods the ports to new worlds–our peninsular lives shrunk to isthmuses and islands? What happens when we are holed up in our apartments, relegated to the two-dimensional simulacrums of friends?
Perhaps what happens is the resurrection of things.
Today, I ruffled out of my sheets to learn that I had fallen asleep in my grey corduroys, piped with warm ridges like a tin roof on a summer day. I pushed them down my legs so that they buckled like accordions, then halved them, tucked the ankles under my chin, forced the wrinkles from the wales with my open palms, and folded them in thirds like a letter before filing them away on my shelf.
I walked across the wood floor tiled with trapezoids of sunlight and listened to the water swell in the belly of the staunch red tea kettle Abby bought me when she first visited Seattle. The kettle rumbled ominously then whistled sweetly, and I reached up to the top shelf to push aside the brooding purple mug for a buttery yellow one.
I spent the day in my white-washed apartment which fills with the rush of passing cars as the narrow streets of Greek villages fill with the hush of passing waves. I spent the day in my aromatic sheets stitched with sage-green leaves. I spent the day in my cerulean sweater whose sleeves have given up trying to reach my wrists.
Whoever said money can’t buy happiness clearly never bought a cozy cerulean sweater.
It is true, though, that things are not enough. We will again need people, precipitated from the Cloud as hugs and handshakes after a long drought. We will again need the tinkering of cafes and hum of plane engines and clash of accents on cobbled streets.
But in the meantime, perhaps we can find a forgotten solace in things–not in the luster of diamonds or cold touch of marble but in the dutiful fraying of dishcloths, the miracle of glass, the weight of a familiar blanket, the centuries and forests of trees that hold up our books and prop up our benches and creak beneath our feet.
I’m reminded of Beauty and the Beast when a lonely Belle turns to the tightly-wound clock and the bodacious wardrobe and the flashy candlestick to keep her company in the midst of uncertainty. They knew it would not be enough forever, but it could steady them until the spell was broken.
Maybe before our lives dilate again, we can allow ourselves to be hemmed into and tend to our worlds. To open drawers and clean under their handles. To run our fingers over the black coils of our stove top while they’re cool and dormant. To water the fern but also to sit with it.
Today on my lunch break as I stepped away from my laptop to mince garlic, I decided to FaceTime one of my colleagues. She answered at the desk in her bedroom. Her ceiling and walls were a deep cerulean and brushed with bushy clouds. “Yeah, I painted my room when I was in like sixth grade, but I still like it,” she said, looking up to her heavens.
Then she gave me a tour of her new work station–the clay jars and the wooden desk and the glass pen from Venice with its little bottle of black ink. But most of all the vast sky above her that made me wonder if the clouds transformed to stars at night, that reminded me that even the strongest cages are more air than iron, that assured me that paradises can be temporary–a place to find rest among unexpected company.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.