Back to the Garden

* Disclaimer: I can already tell that I'm going to get a lot of flac for this essay, so I just want to point out, before you read any further, that I in no way support political nor social anarchy out of a spirit of a rebellion. This essay is instead written from a spiritual perspective, based on very basic principles from Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism that I happen to agree with. I am not urging any of you to "stick it to The Man" to prove a point -- I am instead inviting you to a way of life that is higher, truer, and more spiritually fulfilling. Without any further ado.... *

It began in the Garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve lived in complete harmony, complete peacefulness, complete satisfaction with each other, with nature, and with the Lord of Hosts. Surely, this is communion. Surely this is what it means to live: no stress, no strife, no fear, no anger, no hatred, no sadness. This is the definition of coexistance—the very substance of life: to live and to live; to walk and talk in the Garden in relationship with God and with each other.

The first man and woman were entirely self-sufficient, much like the nomads—the hunters and gatherers—at the dawn of civilization. However, unlike the nomads, Adam and Eve weren't hunters inasmuch they were gatherers. They lived in communion and maintained relationship with Jehovah Jireh—the God who provides; they merely had to maintain a healthy relationship with God and He ensured that all their needs be met. As Tom Hodkinson points out in his book, The Freedom Manifesto, “(Adam and Eve) don't work work but neither do they consume. It appears to be a pre-agricultural era, where the food you need is simply plucked from the trees and hedgerows” (115).

Indeed, this is a pre-agricultural era—Adam and Eve had no knowledge of nor experience with farming; they merely lived off the fat of the land. This is an era that predates agriculturalism, industrialism, and even consumerism. This is a time when all the trading and bartering was done in an economy of mercy and grace between two parties. The Lord of all creation offered His services and goods (food, vegetation, and life itself) and, in return, Adam and Eve offered their love, praise, adoration, and an open line of communication. The world's first economic system was built on the guarantee of fair trade.

This is the beauty of simplicity. Utopia.

Then, everything changed. The itch for something better set in, the desire for the next best thing consumed Adam and Eve's hearts and clouded their minds. Consumerism was born. Not coincidentally, consumerism's arrival was synched with the arrival of advertising in the form of the serpent—the greatest marketing agent of all.

He came on the scene with an agenda to sell. So he found the only object in the Garden that was off limits and built up his advertising campaign. He described the advantages and benefits of eating the fruit of this particular tree, then disavowed everything that the “other expert” said about the fruit. He made it seem as though this object—this fruit—was the latest, greatest thing on the market and that their lives would be all the more complete if they were to have it (even though they already shared an unsurpassed intimacy with the Lord of all. Their lives could not have possibly been more complete and, in their hearts, they knew that).

But they bought into it. They salivated at the sight of the fruit and the capitalistic beast inside them woke up, demanding to be fed. The two of them were banished from the Garden and sentenced to a lifetime of toil and trudgery. Need gave way to a fleeting desire and civilization has been spiraling downward ever since.

* * *

Nowadays, our lives are dominated by the material world that surrounds us. From every angle, we are bombarded with advertisements for everything from toothpaste to vacation destinations to shoes on a daily basis: billboards on the highways and even on the sides of public transportation, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, every website we visit, and even in the movies we watch. Companies will pay millions upon millions of dollars to place their product's name on surfaces their top-notch marketing specialists deem “great real estate” (like jumbotrons in sports arenas or on the backs of seats in airplanes).

Even we have become walking advertisements because of the clothes we wear or the mp3 players we listen to. It is no longer enough for corporations to sell their shit to us, we are now expected to help them sell their shit with our shirts and hats bearing the name or logo of the brand of clothing they are. Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Aeropostale, Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle. All of these outfitters proudly display their names on everything they design: their t-shirts, their sweaters, their hats, their jeans, even their socks! These businesses design their clothes this way because it's effective marketing—what better way to have your business's name spread all over the world than to plaster it all over the clothes that your customers are buying? This is the precise reason I refuse to wear novelty clothing.

You know, it was one thing when businesses no long viewed us as people, but as dollar signs. However, even those days are gone. We, the consumers, have gone from the target to the real estate, from the victim to the enabler.

Here's the sickest part of it all, though: we listen, we watch, and we buy. Then, once the latest fad bores us, we we wait for the next thing that will improve the quality of our (apparent) empty lives. We're like ducks, snatching up whatever bit of bread or crackers that gets tossed our way.

Consider the iPhone, for example. The iPhone was produced by Apple and released in 2007. for three or four months leading up to its release date, the market was saturated with advertisements. Apple's ad campaign was relentless and, ultimately, successful. The iPhone was a huge hit for the software giant and Steve Jobs made a lot of money because of it. However, in one short year, the iPhone became outdated and unfashionable—especially since an updated, less expensive version of the Blackberry was released within a few months. So in 2008, Apple released the iPhone 3G (which, really, isn't much different than its predecessor). And we ate it up eagerly. Even those of us who still had the original iPhone ate up the new one.

Our self-sufficiency has been replaced with boredom. We are so spoiled with all the toys, gadgets, gizmos, and entertainment mediums that we become bored with all of it almost as fast as we fall in love with it in the first place! We have a hunger, a craving, an insatiable appetite to be entertained at every turn. We move on from one fad to the next, from one interest to another, even from one lover to another in a heartbeat! We do not know how to live in a world of simplicity—in a world where the only joys and worthwhile experiences in life are the ones we have to make for ourselves. The marketplace spoon-feeds us, Uncle Sam turns us over his shoulder to burp us, we regurgitate whatever we just ate and then whine until we are fed again.

We are living off the fad of the land.

No longer do we rely on a Higher Power (or even ourselves) to have our needs met; we are almost completely dependent on the tangible objects and superfluous things of this material world. We are sick and becoming increasingly crippled. So we consume. We obey the orders of the capitalistic physician who says, “Buy it—it will make you feel better.” We blindly spend, blindly consume, never realizing that the weight of all the shit we buy is what's crippling us. Meanwhile, the physician is lining his pockets with our hard-earned pay and spending it on devising new marketing schemes to get us to buy more stuff.

Even them that realize their affliction continue to consume. To many, it's an addiction like alcoholism, drug use, or gambling. Our inability to ignore fire sales is not totally on our own shoulders, though—our peers and the world surrounding us also contribute heavily to our need to buy more stuff. See, the amount of things we buy—and the brands of things we buy—have become indicative of our identities and social classes. Therefore, we consume to keep our identities and to maintain our social statuses, lest we be confused with a lower class, a person of lesser standing, or a complete invalid. God forbid we be defined by our actions or the words we say or even the amount we love. After all, the brand of shirt we wear is a much more reliable indicator of who we are as people.


Then, most paralyzing of all, we become emotionally attached to the stuff we buy. There are people who will hold onto some stupid little something for decades, regardless of how often they use it, regardless of how often they even look at it, regardless of much space it occupies, regardless of how often its get packed up and moved from town to town, and even regardless of what it is! They hold onto this stuff for all sorts of reasons: a loved one gave it to them and it's all they have to remember said loved one by, the object is the last of its kind, and (my personal favorite) “I might still use it one of these days.”

Allow me to let you in on some things, here: first of all, if you've been holding onto a coffee mug for years because it's the only thing you have to remember your grandfather by, you are shallow. Either that, or your grandfather wasn't worth remembering. I know that sounds heartless, but I find it even more heartless to commemorate a loved one's entire life with something as frivolous as some silly little man-made thing. Secondly, if you've had something for a long time and haven't used it yet, you probably never will. It will rest in its keeping place and collect dust until you get rid of it or donate it to someone who could really use it.

Such items do nothing more than clutter our homes and our very lives.

* * *

I am reminded of the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler.

The rich young ruler (let's call him Marcus, as it gives this character a bit more personality) was inspired by the statements Jesus made and the works he did. He wanted to follow Jesus as a disciple, going from place to place with him and learning the higher ways Jesus taught. So when Jesus came to his hometown to teach, Marcus ran out to him and proclaimed his intentions: “Rabbi, I want to be a disciple!” Jesus stopped to consider the ruler's proposal for a minute. He seemed genuine enough—he told Jesus that he was inspired by the things he had seen and heard, that he read and obeyed the Torah from the days of his youth, and that he was willing to do anything to be with Jesus. So Jesus agreed and invited him along by saying, “Sell all of your possessions and follow me.”

What an invitation! The son of God himself extended a personal invitation to the rich young ruler to see and hear the things that God did through him. Even if Marcus weren't a believer, this was still an opportunity too good to pass up! Consider: permanent vacation, seeing the world, experiencing different ways of life with fellow followers representing all sorts of different walks of life—the benefits of the trip were enough to lure the ruler out of his mansion! It's not like he had anything better to do with his time anyway. The rich young ruler, however, declined the invitation. According to the Scriptures, he didn't even offer Jesus an excuse as to why he couldn't go—he merely got this dejected look about his countenance, dropped his head, turned his back to the crowds, and moped back to his house. Wouldn't it be considered common courtesy to at least explain why he couldn't go? Even if he made up something ridiculous, like explosive diarrhea, would have been much more respectful than just walking away.

The story between the lines of the text suggests that the rich young ruler was so attached to his possessions, that he turned down the opportunity to experience a sliver of what life in the Garden of Eden was like. Jesus offered him the chance of a lifetime: to walk and talk, to share an intimate relationship—to live in communion—with the Son of God, much the same way Adam and Eve were privileged enough to live in harmony with God Himself. And the rich young ruler refused it. He chose the finite material things he had stored up during the course of his short life over the infinite treasures he could have been storing up in Heaven.

* * *

It seems—at lest in my experience—that only those who are in touch with their spirituality realize the benefits of living simple lives. The Shakers, for example, sing these lines from one of their hymns:

Tis the gift to be simple
Tis the gift to be free
Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in a place just right
Twill be in the valley of love and delight

Mahatma Ghandi, the world's most famous Hindu, always preached the virtue of simplicity, Taoists pride themselves on their simple lifestyles, and there are even atheists who believe in the power and will of the human spirit to maintain a pure and simple life. Consider monks and nuns: these are men and women who detach themselves from all of their possessions, all of their worries, all of their friends and family, and instead embrace a life cut off from the rest of civilization. They make their own clothes, grow their own vegetables, prepare their own food, and live their lives in the peacefulness of isolation and presence of the god they follow.

Buddhism even bases its entire faith system on the virtue simplicity. Buddhists believe in what is called the Four Pillars. The four pillars are: 1) Life means suffering, 2) The origin of suffering is attachment, 3) Cessation of suffering is attainable, and 4) There is a path to the cessation of suffering (this path is known as the eightfold path and maps the way to reaching nirvana). In short, the very foundation of Buddhism is that man can reach ultimate enlightenment, but only by first detaching himself from his possessions and the world around him. As long as man is emotionally or spiritually attached to any tangible thing, his life will be one of suffering.

* * *

Am I saying it's wrong to buy stuff or to own things? Don't get me wrong—I'm not saying that all. There's nothing “wrong” with spending a little money on yourself and owning a fair amount of worldly possessions doesn't make you a “bad person.” What I am saying, on the other hand, is that before you can appreciate life for what it is, you must learn to appreciate and even embrace a life devoid of extravagance and superfluousness. Spend more time with your loved ones rather than the useless crap they've bought for you. Donate things you don't wear or use on a regular basis to charity. Find a hobby, learn a trade, refine your talents, meet new friends, catch up with old friends, stop to smell the flowers. But, for God's sake, don't waste your life away on things that will turn to dust, break down, or become outdated in the blink of an eye. Embrace simplicity!

It is high time we got back to the Garden. It is time we put off the things of the world that have been suffocating us for so long and finally live without the burden of our stuff, constantly weighing us down. Now is the time to experience the things in life that allow us to truly live (and to live “life more abundantly”).


Brown & Gold Shag Carpet

Brown & Gold Shag Carpet

This is my first memory.

It is not a memory of a birthday party that none of my friends attended, or a picnic that was ruined by an army of mosquitoes, or a haircut that made me look foolish despite my insistence to have it styled that way. It is not a memory of a beach on a warm, summer day, the sensation of cool, green grass between my toes, or even the scent of the breeze. It is not a quiet, sneaking thing that hides in the recesses of my mind.

This is my memory that I cannot shake, and it is my first.

I was sitting on the floor of the living room; a brownish golden light poured into the room. The early morning sunrise made the off-white blinds and tan curtains seem like stained glass. There was a musty scent in the air that pervaded the entire apartment and made some first time visitors gag upon entrance.

A deep blue sofa, two lamps, a television sitting on top of an end table, the whirring of the refrigerator in the kitchen, the silent whoosh of the ceiling fan.

I must have been around four years old. My mother, stepfather, and I were living in a two bedroom apartment in Batavia, Illinois—the town where Mary Todd Lincoln was institutionalized after her husband, Abraham, was murdered while the two of them were watching a play.

I have always found it a little eerie that I lived less than a mile away from that institution. I find it equally eerie that the city of Batavia has converted that institution into a low-income housing complex. I suppose that in this age of consumerism, not even insanity is a monument worth commemorating.

I was watching Saturday morning cartoons, sitting there on a patch of hideous, brown and gold shag carpet. It was the kind of carpet that if one were to shuffle across it, one would not be surprised to kick up a cloud of dust, some spare change, or possibly even a Volkswagen Beetle.

And it covered almost the entire apartment. The living room, the hallway, the two bedrooms, the closets and even half of the kitchen. Only the bathroom was spared the sight of that horrible carpet.

I didn't mind so much the way it looked or even the peculiar odor that was deeply embedded in its fibers. I hated, though, the way it made my skin itch. I sat cross-legged on the floor every Saturday morning, directly in front of the television and for the duration of whatever show I was watching, I would be relentlessly scratching at my legs. My mom would always remind me, in less than amiable tones, that the couch was a mere few feet away from me.

I'd like to believe that she was looking out for me and was merely trying to protect me from contracting some sort of horrible disease that was probably wound in the fibers of the carpet. Or perhaps she was more concerned about the wellbeing of my eyes or even my legs. It would have been a shame were my retinas to have been fried due to them being glued to the screen.

As true as both of these fates could have very well been and as much as I would like to believe that Mom had carefully considered both of them and was merely looking out for me, I find it more likely that she was simply annoyed with my constant scratching and was looking for a way to get me off of the floor. I find it even more likely that she didn't want me watching television at all and would have rathered I read a book or participated in some other activity that required my utmost silence—like sitting in the corner, staring at the wall, or playing in the street.

But that's just how she was and such mind stimulating activities weren't part of my daily life at that point. I didn't have time for that.

Of course I could have sat on the more comfortable sofa, but that would have been a definite setback! As irritated as I was with the carpet and the condition of my legs, I wasn't at all interested in sitting more than two feet away from the television for fear that I might miss something important in the fast-paced storylines of my favorite cartoons.

Some sacrifices must be made.

Tom and Jerry was my favorite cartoon of all, with The Real Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles coming in a close second and third, respectively. Even at a very young age, I had a good understanding of the social implications of the show, though I of course couldn't explain them with any sort of eloquence.

Essentially, the premise of this show is that the cat and the mouse fight each other just because of their social roles as cat and mouse. Tom, the cat, sees Jerry, the mouse, and something inside of him clicks: I must chase this mouse with reckless abandon because he is a mouse and I therefore do not like him. Hilarity ensues as Tom comes up with every trick in the book to capture the elusive Jerry, but always to no avail as Jerry has several tricks of his own.

In the end, Tom and Jerry always seemed to arrive at an understanding of each other and even displayed a certain amount of amity towards each other. A certain simpatico, if you will.

I wished real life were as simple as the cartoons I watched.

While I was enthralled with my show and my scratching, I hadn't realized that I had the volume extremely high until I heard my mother and her husband, Paul, stirring in their bedroom.

My mother remarried in 1988 or 1989—I can't remember which, but it hadn't taken her too long to find someone new to marry after her leaving my father. Paul was a construction worker and, like most construction workers (at least the ones I have met), he spent most of his free time at the local bar. Not coincidentally, this is where he happened to spend most of his paychecks.

I didn't understand why he had to go to this place. If he was as thirsty after a hard day's work as he said he was, we had plenty of drinks at home and I would have been more than happy to share my juiceboxes with him.

Paul stumbled into the hallway, belched, and squinted into the sunlight, holding himself up against the wall. He was utterly disheveled and wreaked of liquor. He approached me slowly as he shuffled over the carpet, his feet heavy with a hangover.

“Good morning!” I chirped, as innocently as a boy my age could.

Paul looked up at me with this look that said “Are you serious?”

He burped, then sighed, scratching at his navel with his middle finger. “Go back to bed, Andy. It's early.”

I have always hated it when people call me Andy. Even as a four year old, I thought it was such a juvenile name: Andy. Andy isn't the name of a cool kid or even a moderately cool kid. Andy ranks up there with names like Marcus or Elliott. Andy is the name of the fat kid with Coke-bottle glasses who eats paste and occasionally wets himself during class. Drew, on the other hand—that is a cool name.

I turned away from him and focused my attention back on the screen. I think I even made this weird nose with my mouth—like a pft!—as if to say, Yeah, whatever dude. “I'm watching Tom and Jerry.”

“The fuck you are,” he bellowed through another belch—he was still drunk. He stomped towards the television and punched the power button with his clumsy fist.

“Hey!” I whined. “I was watching that!”

“And now you're not. Now get your ass back in bed!”


“Go, God dammit!”


He took a few steps closer.


My innocent, puppy eyes and whiny complexion turned to stone.

Looking back, I can only see this event as a rerun of the moment David faced down Goliath. The lumbering giant stomps his way onto the battlefield and bellows, “I ask for a fight with a man and you send me a boy!” The shepherd boy, David, plants his feet to take a firmer stance and pulls out a sling and a knapsack loaded with his artillery—five smooth stones—to challenge the sword and spear Goliath wields. Goliath chuckles—no, guffaws—at the sight and between bursts of laughter retorts, “What am I? Am I a dog that you should come at me with a stick?”

David's reply is epic: “You come at me with sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of God.”

This, of course, enrages Goliath. He steps forward, expecting David to quake; but the boy does not. The giant takes another step forward and raises his right arm across his chest and prominently displays the backside of his hand and motions that if David keeps standing there, he will soon be tasting it; but the boy does not move. Goliath takes one last step toward David so that he is standing nearly toe-to-toe with the boy.

David, the shepherd boy, does not shake. David, the future king, does not run away. David, the man after God's own heart, does not even move. He loads his sling with a single smooth stone and glares back at the giant with a dogged determination.

Goliath furrows his brows and challenges him with his eyes: Make your move.

This is it. This is that moment.

This is that moment that the little boy with the water-wings stands at the edge of the dock and works himself up to jump into the water for the first time; and even though his daddy stands there with open arms and promises Come on! I will catch you! Jump!, he still doubts all of his surroundings, his assuring father and, most of all, himself.

I closed my eyes and loaded a single smooth stone into my sling.





“You're not my daddy,” I said. I turned my stoic face to meet his gaze and with all the bitterness my four year old body could muster, coldly followed the phrase with, “I don't have to listen to you.”

He grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and yanked me up to my feet. He took an awkward, hard swing at me with the back of his hand, but missed in his drunken stupor. He tripped up a bit, but never let go. The second time he swung, he didn't swing as hard and he didn't miss. His open palm made direct contact with my left cheek and made a muffled clap!.

I didn't cry. Though tears welled up in the corners of my eyes, I did not cry.

I looked up into his heartless eyes and shrieked, “I hate you! You're not my daddy!”

He pushed me to the ground with the clenched fist that had been holding my shirt. The force of his shove made me roll once or twice until I stopped against the wall. “Now, go!” he yelled.

I don't think I was as scared as I was bewildered. I was watching a cartoon about a cat and mouse who fight each other and now, here I was cradling my swelling, bright red cheek in my hand for comfort as my Smurfs t-shirt absorbed the blood dripping from my nose. And even in the heat of the battle, that God damned carpet was still making my legs itch!

Stuff like this never happened in my cartoons: I didn't know how to react or what to do. The cat and mouse always became friends at the end of the program! I couldn't foresee any simpatico coming from this event.

And, of course, there was the thought: Where's Mom? Why won't she save me?

Paul stood over me, slouching at the waist, arms dangling at his sides. His beer gut spilled over the elastic band of his underwear and his long, deep breaths made it seem as though he had just run a marathon. Even though this battle technically belong to him (after all, he was the one still standing), he looked defeated. A hint of exasperation across his face. His stance made him look pathetic and even in my fear of him, my Goliath, I felt stupid and slightly embarrassed for ever being afraid of him in the first place.

The way he was glaring at me under the weight of his eyelids told me that if I didn't do something, he was ready to strike again. I ran to my room, slamming the door behind me, and slid my weakened body under the bed, making sure my mattress hid every inch of my skin. Through the door, I heard Paul take a few steps then collapse in a heap of drunkenness. I felt vibrations under me as the floorboards absorbed his deep snores while he lay there, with his face down in that brown and gold shag carpet.

I never again told Paul that he wasn't my daddy to his face. Then again, I never called him daddy either.

And this is my first memory.

Copyright 2008, thisbelongstodrewmoody