I just returned from the AAR/SBL religion conference in Denver. There I learned or relearned something of lasting import. It took place before I had even set foot in the conference proceedings. Here’s what it was: giving thanks for life’s bare necessities really helps one bear with life’s great challenges and experience contentment. No, it’s not a point that soars to the heights of rocket science or plunges to the depths of mystical inquiry. But it helps me hold my universe together.
My crash course in learning or relearning this essential truth began with trying to find my way from the airport to the hotel where I was staying. Siri was not cooperating (once again) and kept me orbiting the central corridor near the Colorado Convention Center. There I was walking round and round in the cold, dark night, dragging my suitcase behind me. I recall thinking that Siri and I need counseling, perhaps mediation. Our relationship hit an all-time low, so unlike the relationship of Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) with his artificially intelligent virtual assistant Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson) in the movie Her (here’s the link to the trailer).
When I finally arrived at the hotel front desk just before 9 pm, I was as hungry as a bear. I asked if I could order a takeout from the hotel restaurant. The staff informed me the restaurant would close in one minute. Not wishing to venture out again given Siri’s passive aggressive behavior in giving directions, I decided to go to bed and order a takeout from the restaurant first thing in the morning.
When I called the next morning, the restaurant manager apologized and said the restaurant was closed due to a burst water pipe. I remember saying out loud at some point, “God, can’t I get a break just for once?!”
I ordered a breakfast burrito to go from a restaurant down the street. As I paid for the meal and took off out the door, the song, “The Bare Necessities” from the 1967 animated movie The Jungle Book came on over the speaker system (here’s the link to the movie video for the song). Even though I had come close to bursting the emotional equivalent of a water pipe given my frustrations over searching for my hotel the night before and trying to find food, I couldn’t help but laugh. Why? “The Bare Necessities” had been my theme song as a child. I used to go up and down the sidewalk in front of my parents’ house as a little boy, belting it out and bouncing along as if I were Baloo the Bear.
I started singing that song again as I walked down the sidewalk in Denver: “Look for the bare necessities…” Funny as it may sound, I became grateful for the bare necessities of life then and there. I thought to myself: I had a roof over my head that sheltered me from the Denver winter elements and a breakfast burrito firmly in hand. My adult son Christopher, who is in a minimally conscious state resulting from a traumatic brain injury, is in stable condition back home.
All too often I take the bare necessities of life for granted. I shouldn’t, since they really are necessities. Unfortunately, I am not usually satisfied with life’s bare necessities. Rather, I am often looking for decked-out luxuries. Here I could learn a thing or two from Baloo the Bear. Never take the basic necessities of life for granted, such as shelter, food, and a child’s stability. I would have far fewer “worries” and “strife” if I would be content with the bare necessities of life.
This point also came home to me one evening in Denver when I called to speak with my wife back home. She shared how a CNA tending to Christopher at his care facility told her that Christopher had a very good day. He had smiled a lot and had followed staff with his eyes whenever they were in his room. I dare not take such smiles and eye movement for granted. They may seem small in comparison with a normally brain functioning person’s activities. But for Christopher, such responses are huge—as big as a bear. What if there were never any smiles or eyes tracking people. I cringe at the thought.
I couldn’t wait to see Christopher when I returned home to the Pacific Northwest. My son smiled at me when I entered his room and started talking to him last night. There was also opportunity to sings songs to Christopher, read to him, show him some pictures, and pray over him.
I may not be able to hibernate like a bear during winter months, but I could probably have gotten by in Denver for a few days without food. In fact, the overnight fast and Siri-induced laps around city blocks in downtown Denver probably did me some good. What did me even more good was receiving word that Christopher was content and happy in his minimally conscious state, and then visiting with him last night in the quiet of his room. Time with my son is a bare necessity.
We could learn a thing or two from Baloo the Bear. Focusing on the bare necessities of life can take away a great deal of our “worries” and “strife.” Rather than spending our time “lookin’ around for something” we “want that can’t be found” and coming to the realization we “can live without it,” not fixating on it, “the bare necessities of life will come to you” and me.
Baloo the Bear’s counsel reminds me of a biblical character as tough as a grizzly bear, the Apostle Paul. While imprisoned for sharing his faith in Jesus, he writes to other followers of Jesus. He tells them that he had learned a great secret while encountering the highs and lows of life: how to have contentment.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:4-7, 11-13; NIV)
Peace is often hard to find. Learning to give thanks for life’s bare necessities really helps one bear with life’s great challenges and experience contentment. As we learn to appreciate the bare necessities of life, and as we train ourselves to give thanks amid various circumstances, we will experience more of God’s peace, less anxiety, and fewer emotional equivalents of burst water pipes.
For the various post regarding our journey with Christopher and TBI dating back to January 2021, please go to this link. Thank you for your prayers!