Sometimes, like a bad cold or a knee that keeps popping out of joint, an unsettling itch takes hold of me. I find myself longing for more out of life, though I’m not exactly sure what the ‘more’ is. I see people around me, figures carved out against the sky, achieving higher levels of success, as if they have reached for the stars and actually plucked one down.
Their hands hold onto their dreams – music, movies, books, three fickle mistresses that have filled my head with their seductive whispers. “Holy shit! Look at that person succeeding! Are they from Missoula! Whoa! And they wrote that screenplay on Netflix? Geez!” Oh, how part of me yearns to tread their sacred paths. It seems like the world is always full of possibilities, until the sands of time start to slip through our fingers.
And may I say, it isn’t just time that I lack – money plays its tricks too.
Sometimes my eyes drift towards the gleam of a new Tesla (they are everywhere now) parked by the side of the road, or the cozy charm of an RV nestled amidst the emerald green of a summer meadow. “Wow, fancy schmancy. Geez, wouldn’t that be nice to be roasting marshmallows out by the lake? With Starlink we could do all our work as the kids splash in the lake all day!”
Or even a lake house, my temporary (yet broken down, but still cool) castle when we rented an Airbnb one fine weekend, also haunts my thoughts. How grand it must be to live that life, (you see them out there on the lake in their boats and jet skis like dolphins or seals jumping around), basking in the sun on a boat, with their models, while I’m stuck amidst the drab concrete and steel of the city.
But I somehow pull myself back.
I grip the edges of my sanity and yank myself back down to earth, back to reality. The metallic sheen of the Tesla is just that – a sheen, a mirage that would tarnish with time. (“Remember that time we got a motorcycle? The dopamine only lasted 2 weeks.” “They say that people who live in Hawaii never go to the beach.”) The RV and the lake house, while enchanting, are but mere buildings.
And again, a car is just meant to get you from point A to point B!
What Really Matters
And that is when I look around and remember who I really am. A trio of beautiful children, their laughter echoing through our house, their joy infectious. A wife, her love and support the bedrock upon which my life stands. These are my riches. These are the treasures that no amount of money can buy.
In this mad, tumultuous world, I have an oasis of tranquility. My father, alive and hearty. Friends who stand by my side through thick and thin. We are healthy, we are happy. A sense of community surrounds us, offering solace and companionship in these turbulent times.
And so, I find myself grounding. Focusing on what I do have, instead of what I don’t. It’s an exercise in gratitude, a purposeful shifting of my gaze from the shadows to the light. I am in no means suggesting a denial of the shadows, but merely an acknowledgement that amidst the struggle and the longing, there are reasons to be grateful.
Sometimes, it helps to sit down with a loved one, to verbalize these thoughts. To recollect the steps we’ve taken, to celebrate how far we’ve come from where we once stood. They call it “relishing” what you have. It’s a moment to pause, to look back at the trail we’ve blazed, to marvel at our resilience and our progress.
Yes, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, to forget the journey and fixate on the unreachable horizon. But isn’t life more about the trek and less about the destination? And so, the key lies in reminding ourselves of this truth, focusing on our blessings, and in the process, finding a richer, deeper satisfaction.
So as I glance around once again, at the simplicity of my surroundings, I realize that there is nothing “simple” about it at all. It is life, it is love, it is family. And that, as we know, is far greater than any lake house or shiny car.
Now, if you’re thinking a shiny new Tesla would fix all your problems, think again. Sure, they’re sleek and they’re red or green, and they’ve got that eccentric billionaire backing them. But the truth is, they’re also expensive and elitist, and they come with their own set of problems. You know, the kind of problems that make you ask, “Where do I even take this thing if it breaks down? California?”
And let’s not even get started on the speed. I’m not talking about the top-tier models here. The Model 3, for instance, well, it’s not exactly a speed demon. Yes it’s fast but if you want really fast you’re going to have to spend like 100k for a model X. I’m NOT taking out a mortgage for a stupid car! Meanwhile, the politics behind it all, well, that’s another debate entirely. I may not always agree with Musk, but I appreciate his transparency in this age of cancel culture.
And RVs, don’t get me started. They’re glorified tin cans on wheels that eat your money faster than a slot machine in Vegas. I shudder at the thought of parking next to a horde of strangers at an RV camp, not knowing who our temporary neighbors might be. Plus, the economy being what it is, it’s just not feasible.
So why am I fixating on these things? Dopamine? They’re fantasies, impractical daydreams. Focusing on what I don’t have, what I can’t afford, only amplifies a sense of deprivation. And let’s be honest, these are rather silly problems to have. “Oh no, I can’t afford a luxury electric car or a mobile home on wheels!” It’s a privilege to have such concerns. And let’s face it, I’m just distracting myself with this stuff when life appears to get to stressful, for any reason.
I was reminded of this when a friend of mine called from the hospital, laid up with a nasty bout of pneumonia in Helena, yesterday. The hospital was on lockdown due to a norovirus outbreak, with my friend at high risk of contracting it and not even making it through the situation. That’s a real problem, I thought, not this petty desire for an overpriced hunk of metal that we all need apparently to save the environment.
Growing up, my mom always had a way of putting things into perspective.
“We’re not in Iraq,” she would say. “Did you know there are some people who actually eat on dirt floors?”
“And there are some people who actually eat dirt. You’re not eating dirt.”
I looked down at my dinner. I was a really picky eater.
Now, I find myself repeating a similar line to my kids, when they won’t eat their food. “We’re not in Ukraine.”
But the truth is, my kids are more than okay with that. Their favorite place in the world isn’t a mansion on a lake or a sprawling RV camp. It’s our house.
Just the other day, my little girl said to me, “Dad, you don’t know how much this house means to me. It is everything to me.” And I think that’s what it all comes down to. Gratitude for what we do have. Gratitude for our health, for our family, for a place to call home. It’s easy to lose sight of these things when we’re busy focusing on what we don’t have. But the moment we shift that focus, we realize just how much we truly have.
So, while it’s fine to dream and yearn, let’s also remember to cherish and relish what’s already ours. After all, our life’s richness is determined not by the things we want, but by the things we probably already have and treasure. And they’re probably staring at you right in the face.
Plus, don’t forget, that if you find that you get all jealous of something you don’t have, or if someone is doing something that just makes you feel all jealous, as well, then maybe it’s a good indicator of where you could, if you want – to point your compass.
John Michaels, a Missoula native and author, has been captivating readers with his writing for years. A graduate of Brown University’s esteemed creative writing program, Michaels has spent the majority of his career crafting stories that resonate with his readers and capture the essence of the human experience. Despite the demands of raising children, Michaels has continued to pursue his passions, finding solace in the bustling downtown Missoula scene. There, he spends his free time honing his craft, whether it be working on short stories, playing music, or dedicating himself to his work at Sunflower Counseling, MT.