Daphne Stevens, Ph.D.
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I shopped like a madwoman last month. Why is it easier to fit new clothes into a suitcase than to drag out the season’s old favorites and wear them again? I was preparing for a business trip to Santa Fe. First I hit some tried-and-true catalogues for basics—good fitting pants in several neutral colors, and a simple packable dress that could be accessorized easily. Then I hit the mall.
I don’t do the mall very often. It overwhelms me. By the time I bought tunics to go with my catalogue pants and then searched the outlet stores to find shells to go under the tunics, I was pretty exhausted.
I have a recurring dream about being in a shop surrounded by beauty– exquisite fabrics and jewelry in an infinite assortment colors and textures just made for the eye to feast on. In Santa Fe I lived that dream. Santa Fe is famous for its shopping, but what I loved the most was a long walkway where Native American artists and artisans sit each day and display their wares. They sit on the ground with the work of their hands arranged on a blanket in front of them. I was captivated by the display of the things, but I was equally enchanted by the faces of the artists themselves.
I felt shy. I am accustomed to American mall shopping. You know, you breeze in and sort through rack after rack of the same name-brand style you’ve looked at in the last store and the one after that. You might have even found something close to what you like three stores back, but you’re looking for a better price or a different color, or you can’t find the pants that went with the jacket you found earlier.
The displays are basically the same. The same bored-looking sales clerk stares at you. She may be old and tired or she may be young and perky, but she is seldom helpful. “Just make up your mind,” her manner says. You finally pick out something close to what you were looking for and you position yourself in the back of the check-out line. Or you ask, “Do you have any of these in a different size?” and the sales clerk switches from bored to annoyed. “Everything we have is out,” she might say. You feel extraneous, invisible, like you’ve asked too much. Maybe you get annoyed back. Or maybe you’re so numbed by the day’s rush of stimuli that you don’t even notice the emptiness of the exchange.
I wasn’t fully aware of the soul of shopping until I walked that walkway in Santa Fe and looked into the faces of the merchants there. They had created each piece they offered. There was a story behind each beaded necklace, a signature of style in each pottery selection.
I was looking for a turquoise choker for myself and a birthday gift for my good friend Beth. I was looking for the perfect pair of cuff-links for my husband. As I stopped and examined each choice, a gentle exchange transpired. No bored or impatient ( or eager) sale person met my eye—only a simple earth-dweller like me. A sense of dignity and a mutual respect prevailed as I gazed into each brown and weathered face.
It got me to thinking about buying and selling. Mass production and retail has given us a lot. I’m happy to have a car and a refrigerator—and, yes, I’m even happy to have access to those racks of clothes displayed throughout the mall. But consumerism gives us illusion as much as it gives us choice. We grab armloads of clothes to try on, forgetting that some human being in some distant place actually worked with a piece of fabric to produce those dresses. We forget that a human being— a designer or some designer’s assistant—had some idea that became manifest in this jacket.
We forget, too, that the bored-looking sales clerk may also be a mother or a student or a poet or a prophet. That all those hands who came together to bring this particular item for us to mindlessly ring up on our credit card are earth-dwellers– just like us.
My husband has a bit of wisdom about money. He says, “I think money has three purposes. It is there to empower us to take care of our basic needs. It is there to give us pleasure. And it is there to enable us to bring both to others—both basic needs and pleasure. That last thing, I think, is the best thing about any kind of wealth.”
I couldn’t agree with him more. Money embodies our very life substance—the time and energy that is given to us to spend here on earth. Greed is not money, after all, any more than gluttony is food. It’s all good, as the kids say, in its own time and place.
I considered all that as I looked into the eyes of the young Santa Fe artist and offered my money in exchange for a beautiful turquoise necklace. There was reverence and a hint of joy in both the buying and in the selling.
I think that I will wear that necklace often.
Questions for Reflection:
1. How often do you look into the face of a sales clerk when you are buying something? What do you see there?
2. Spend some time this week being conscious of exactly how you spend your money. How do you see those purchases as supportive of your basic human values? How many of those purchases provide for your basic needs—or give you pleasure—or afford pleasure or necessities for others?
3. What is your notion of tithing? How are you conscious of giving back to a community, a world, or a Divine Being from which you have drawn your own blessings?