Today vs. Yesterday

Yesterday (or thereabouts) I owned a bunch of great stuff: handmade furniture, some modest art, a large collection of toys and tools, etc.

Today I own a mere fraction of what I owned yesterday. But still I enjoy these new possessions; perhaps more than I did before.

For instance, while I was sifting through a small box of my stuff at my daughter’s this past July I happened upon a small stainless steel device – 2 cm X 1 cm X 1/2 cm. It contains 5 mechanisms: a file, tweezers, scissors,  a small knife blade and a screwdriver.

It had no logo; just pure polished stainless steel. And I do not remember where I acquired it. I admire it for the aesthetic of its neat functional design. I packed it back with me to Mexico because it doesn’t violate any carry laws in Mexico and it’s so small, yet contains some well made tools.


I remember quite clearly a rather serious epiphany I had about possessions while I was on one of my favorite walks in Washington, DC.

Q St. NW from DuPont Circle to Georgetown contains some of the most stately homes in the city. On this one particular walk I caught myself objectively enjoying the architecture while realizing that I wouldn’t particularly care to own one of those grand old homes. That realization made me think deeper.

I decided one could admire marvelous and very expensive things without coveting them. That thought made me happy. That realization helped me understand another layer to that concept we collectively call freedom – a principle we widely acknowledge as an American virtue yet so few of us have bothered to define what it actually means.

I think now of an earlier time while walking with a friend of mine through one of the trendier parts of San Francisco when we happened upon a rather famous actor emerging from a building. As we looked around we saw he was being filmed. Mt friend scowled. When I asked him what was wrong, he angrily replied, “That should be me.”

This calls to mind an even earlier story when my daughter was a toddler and me and some members of my family were staying at the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill, also in San Fransisco. It was my sister, her husband, their small daughter, my wife, me and our child.

This was in the late-’80s. Jennifer, my niece told all of us breathlessly that she saw Chevy Chase – then a very famous actor – get onto the elevator. She was about eight at the time so we all kind of went,’Okay; like maybe she did and if she didn’t, so what?’

The next morning after the valet pulled my car around to the drive in front of the hotel, I felt a pair of eyes on me as I was loading our bags into the trunk. I turn to see Chevy Chase watching me from the porch. I look at him. He looked back at me. And I returned to putting the last of our luggage in the trunk.

I’ve thought about that moment several times over and I knew then as I do now that he was profoundly curious about me, a mere mortal; who I was and more importantly, what I did in this life.

I suspect his curiosity was further aroused when I made no exclamation or look of surprise to his celebrity. He knew I recognized him but chose for reasons unknown to him to not acknowledge his celebrity.

I once watched Danny Glover – another famous actor at the time – act mildly crazy in one of the lounges at Narita Airport. I ignored him too although his behavior was so erratic; he was kind of staggering around, mumbling to himself.

I’ll wrap up my celebrity sighting stories with another oddity. During one of my many dozens of trips through LAX in the mid-’90s I saw the actor, Jeff Goldblum pacing the concourse. For anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention, his state of mind was obvious. And watching him I didn’t know whether to laugh or feel sorry for him. He was painfully torn between two very conflicting emotions: Both wanting anonymity yet at the same time distraught that no one seemed to recognize him.

That was a rather lengthy divergence off topic, wasn’t it?

Oh well, it’s my blog and I can write and recollect as I so choose.

So getting back on point, I should summarize my personal definition of freedom by first stating what it is not. Freedom is not about money. Freedom is not about having lots and lots of free time. And freedom is most certainly not about power.

Rousseau, and I paraphrase, once said,”Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.”

Freedom in my humble opinion comes down to a couple of different things. First, to be chained to nothing: Not to another person’s opinion, not to addiction of things or substance, and not to a false identity with anything outside of oneself.

Freedom is lastly about choice. Have we created our lives in a manner that has enabled us to do something as simple as just get up and walk away? To walk way from a bad conversation? A bad relationship? A bad job? A career? A city? A life?

Have you built into your mind that change is healthy?

Can you live like a poor man although you can afford not to? Does your true substance lie within? Can you entertain yourself?

I once saw a man about my age crossing a major street in downtown Lima. His worn out sandals suggested he was dirt poor but his clothes were clean. He was thin but muscular. He walked with strength and grace like a prince of the city. He symbolized neither pride or humility. But I sensed he was a  man of purpose. He might not have conquered the world but the world hadn’t conquered him either. He was his own man. He owned nothing including nothing to no one. In other words, he was free.

I thought to myself, ‘That’s the man I want to be.’

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