The Common Good
May-June 1999

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple

by Kelley E. Evans | May-June 1999

cup in a tiny, single-serving French press. Some mornings I rush out of the house and
leave the coffee-making for someone at the office, but I usually regret this.

cup in a tiny, single-serving French press. Some mornings I rush out of the house and leave the coffee-making for someone at the office, but I usually regret this. I make coffee better than anyone I know, and my complicated ritual gives me almost as much sanity as the caffeine. I move amongst my housemates and their breakfasts to get the coffee grinder, the hot water, a spoon, or a cup.

Along with seven others, I came to Washington, D.C., this year committed to "living simply." We work and live communally—and generally get on each other’s nerves. I unwittingly committed to rooming with a morning person, who doesn’t need any stimulants to get herself up and running. I manage house finances (a task I volunteered for), and I still haven’t gotten the checkbook to balance. We have trouble keeping the house clean. We are in each other’s faces and spaces 24-hours-a-day. I have learned that there’s nothing simple about simple living.

Simplicity is heralded as a cure for the excesses of modern culture. Strip down, throw out (or recycle), make time. Often this results in complicated, involved actions such as planning ways to get to work without a car or cooking meals from scratch. Mainstream North American culture would have us believe that fast meals and sport utility vehicles make for a simpler, smoother-running life. Counterculture suggests that life is simpler and more meaningful without acquiring possessions and not utilizing all the available technology. Both hold up an ideal lifestyle that we must achieve by performing prescribed tasks.

I REALIZE MORE CLEARLY these days that simplicity is not an action or a step we can take; simplicity is a gift. Simple living has no formula—it can’t be encapsulated in a catchy title like "10 Steps to a Better Me and Community." Rather than requiring effort, simplicity is effortless. Simplicity awakens pain, passion, and compassion—an energy that cannot be fatigued, because we exerted no effort to gain it in the first place. Simplicity is receptiveness to the quiet but rushing, ever-present, unpredictable undercurrent of grace. It is not focused and strained, but fluid and free. A simple component exists in all of us and in our surroundings; it exists despite us, our culture, or our counterculture. Simplicity rises to the surface everywhere. Our task is (simply) to entertain simplicities instead of passing over them.

As I get ready for the day, I experience certain familiarities. The creak in the stairs. A good-morning hug from my roommate. The chaos of all of us making breakfast and lunch and coffee at the same time. Sometimes I get ready quickly, and other times I dawdle over the morning paper. On my way to work, I pass a red Labrador that never barks at me, only stares as I walk by. My speed doesn’t matter, but the posture of my mind makes all the difference. I take thoughts as they come and recognize the simple things that visit me along the way. I acknowledge any thought as important and having weight, none as insignificant.

My ponderings and ruminations might be distressing to some and a waste of time to others, but to me they are simplicities. They come despite a hurried pace or caffeine deprivation. I view my task as merely to accept moments, the natural outpouring of the divine around me and in me every day. These moments form the fragmented poem of morning—ultimately, the poetry of life. Fragmented, that is, until my coffee kicks in.

KELLEY E. EVANS envisions a perfect world in which everyone will wake up with a cup of "Equal Exchange" coffee. As an intern, she manages Sojourners’ resource center.

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