A good friend of mine lost a boat to the Merrimack River during this fall’s nor'easter.
I learned about the incident during an unannounced visit to his house the day after, where I found him in a mild state of shock, processing what had just transpired.
It was a 41-foot sailboat in which he recently invested a lot of time, sweat and money. As I listened to him describe the loss and its impact on him, I put my lawyer’s hat on and dissected the event and expressed, in cold objective terms, what was likely to follow concerning insurance and liability.
As I observed his reaction to my emotionally detached analysis, I wondered if he perceived the coldness of my heart and that I could not relate to what he was experiencing. The caring for and concern about material things has always been a problem — an issue — for me.
I have worn my lack of interest in the material world as a faux (maybe liberal) badge of honor since I was in college. I have always been prone to harshly judging what I view as fealty to the material world in friends and foes alike.
In all my years, the only thing I ever felt bad about losing or breaking was the gold initialed cuff links that my father passed on to me at some milestone in my life. My lack of appreciation for almost all things material was unconsciously inculcated in me by my working-class parents, and nurtured during the countercultural revolution/hippie days of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Other than changing the oil, tires and brakes of my cars, and occasionally taking clothes to the dry cleaner without being reminded to, I have never cared about or maintained anything except my ski equipment, softball glove and sunglasses.
I have to be coerced into changing my clothing closets and window screens each season; have never painted anything; never clean or maintain any of my dormant tools; and have never read an instruction manual. The ability to turn an energy-charged device on and off and use 15% of its capacity is the extent of my interest in TVs, phones and computers.
Necessity, not curiosity or interest, has always been my mother of invention.
The coveting of someone else’s fancy cars, snazzy jewelry or big house has always been an anathema to me. That’s not to say I have lived a monk’s life.
To the contrary, I was surrounded by those objects when I worked as a lawyer and lived very comfortably in the tony neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., for many years.
I made every effort to provide for whatever my family needed, and then some. But I always viewed disproportionate concern about “things” a personal flaw and in my admittedly narrow eyes, it diminished the character of those so engaged.
I smugly spent my money on my children and traveling, and eschewed competitive materialism. To this day, the worst thing a salesperson can say to me about a contemplated purchase is that “it makes a statement.”
My disconnect from the material world and the people who inhabit it has been honed and justified by myriad events and experiences.
Teenagers violently robbing peers of “status” clothing; a wealthy family member whose opulent lifestyle masked and/or maybe reflected moral depravity and a wretched soul; ridiculously expensive cars people purchase as a way of “keeping up with the Joneses”; and the sad look on the faces of people of all ages and stripes as they gaze longingly at the glitzy, status-promoting objects in the store windows of hermetically sealed malls.
And I am compelled to mention the conspicuous consumption of our president, whose values turn my stomach.
But then there is my friend lamenting his sunken vessel, which he always referred to reverently by name. And the father-in-law I never met who bequeathed his beautifully maintained tools to his children.
With those tools, he skillfully crafted beloved objects for his family. The owners of the beautiful and historic antique cars shown on our streets once a year burst with pride and achievement as large and appreciative audiences ask about the history and character of their vehicles. I have come to appreciate and respect those sentiments as I mellow with age.
The simple truth is that I am just a lazy guy with no manual dexterity who hypocritically thinks his values are better than others. No one is perfect.
Richard Ross lives in Amesbury and is a freelance writer and mediator of business and real estate disputes.