This morning I woke up around six a.m. to use the bathroom and when I opened the fridge to grab a drink of juice (which I expected to be warm), I was pleasantly surprised to see the light on in the fridge, indicating that power had been restored to Vieques. In all honesty, I had no expectation that we’d have power back so soon, as I had no confirmation of what the source of the outage was. Rumor had it last night that there was no power on parts of the main island, that perhaps the outage had to do with the solar storm and resulting earthquakes– in my mind, we could have been without power for days. I was prepared for it. At least we still had running water, a house, and a gate around that house to protect us.
Turns out it was simply corroded wires, and the power was restored by morning, which, given my expectations, was a treat.
If there is one thing that I love about Vieques more than anything else, it’s that it makes me appreciate the small things in life. The simple necessities. It makes me grateful for the things that we take so much for granted at home. Running water. Locking doors. Privacy. Electricity. After camping for ten days, those things seem like a luxury, and every day I’m grateful for them.
And without all of the trappings of home –TV, internet, movie theaters, scads and scads of retail outlets vying for every last dime in your wallet– I find I appreciate the natural world around me more here than I do at home. Not that I don’t appreciate nature at home, but without anything else to do, there is really no choice here most days but to go to the beach, take pictures, go for a hike, or kayak, or paddleboard, or hop aboard a friend’s boat. On Vieques, there’s plenty of time to do all those things we keep telling ourselves we don’t have time for at home. The truth is, we have time for them all at home, but we fill up that time with unnecessary activities, most of which involve earning or spending money. It’s refreshing not to have the option of filling up my schedule with bullshit. I’ve been to the beach every day this week, and I DO have a job. My rent is $200 a month, and although the place is not a palace, it’s enough. It’s all I really need.
The other huge benefit to living without all the unnecessary extras we call “normal” at home is that I have plenty of time to think, to reflect, to write, to read, and to daydream. I think we Americans have trained ourselves to think these are the unnecessary extras, when the truth is quite the opposite. If we spend all of our time working in order to pay for all the things that we really don’t NEED, we don’t have time to live. To be. To relax. To think. To be happy, and REALIZE that we are happy. Our priorities are all messed up.
In the perpetual quest for material wealth that is contemporary American society, we have lost sight of what is really important: the quest for happiness. We all know, on a surface level, that money can’t buy happiness. But then why do we keep trying to fill whatever empty place exists in us with material things? Why do we get ourselves into crippling debt buying toys and clothes and fancy home furnishings and zippy cars? Wouldn’t being debt-free be more satisfying than having all those things at such a steep price? Because the price is not just the debt, and the stress of the debt, but the TIME spent trying to pay off the debts; time that we should be spending with our friends and loved ones, enjoying nature, making art, cooking and eating, listening to music, relaxing, and doing the things that will ACTUALLY make us happy.
Time is the most valuable resource we have, and we waste far too much of it. We waste it on working to pay for things we don’t actually need. We waste it on anger, stress, resentment and guilt. We waste it on pointless activities like video games, television and facebook. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not simply proselytizing–I’m just as guilty as anyone else. But I’m trying to shift the balance of how I spend my time and money, because as I’ve learned here on Vieques, I’m a hell of a lot happier when I’ve got less money, less trappings and all the time I want to sit in the hammock and read my book. Or to sit here, at half past noon on a Wednesday, and write to you.