My niece Isabelle is coming to stay with me next week. My sister and her husband have done a terrific job teaching Isabelle the difference between wants and needs. At age eight, Isabelle will usually say, â€œI don’t need itâ€” but I really want…â€ whatever is on her mind that day: the glitter-covered hair comb, pink tennis shoes or ice cream.
I’m proud of the job they have done, proud of how Isabelle appears to have this basic knowledge so well in hand. As I have pared down my life, I found a lot of â€œneedsâ€ were mysteriously devalued to wants, and then further demoted to unnecessary or even undesirable, as I better understood what my time was worth and how little satisfaction came from most things.
I returned from Africa to discover some sort of mysterious digital conversion had occurred and neither of my decrepit hand-me-down televisions worked. Since I was living alone and likely to fall prey to indiscriminate television watching, I decided that I didn’t need one for the time being.
Unless I was going to get serious about getting another â€œrealâ€ job, I also realized that I wouldn’t have a lot of cash to spend on new clothes. I discovered consignment clothing shops and suddenly was able to buy all the clothes I could ever want for a few dollars.
My old pick-up truck is not particularly glamorous (or efficient) but it gets me where I need to go. I’m happy with the old furniture in my house, the occasionally temperamental stove, and my ancient lawn mower (that always starts on the first pull) with the rusty handle that has been welded back on twice.
I took a certain pride in almost never using the word â€œneedâ€ about anything that was not, really and truly, a need. So it came as a shock recently when it was pointed out by my very good friend, Andy, that I do a lousy job of telling anyone (including myself) what it is that I actually need.
In my exuberance to declare myself â€œneed-free,â€ I had devalued the things I needed till they disappeared like smoke. I never said that I needed help, I needed support or needed a sympathetic ear. I never told anyone that I needed more time or more moneyâ€” no matter how much of either I really did need. I occasionally needed advice, but I never just needed to vent.
I realized Andy was right. My apparent lack of need had made the people I care about feel a little useless. So, while I don’t feel very Midwestern or Scandinavian when I say it, I have given myself permission to become a little more needy.
Because I do need love, attention, forgiveness, patience, time, forbearance and help. I need to do things that are important to me, not do the things that are not good for me, spend time with the people who make me feel happy and complete, and avoid people who are not kind or not fun. Sometimes â€“just sometimesâ€“ I might even need a little ice cream.
Most of all, I need to get over the reluctance, fear and just plain foolish pride that makes me believe that I don’t have needs. I need to tell the people I love that I need themâ€” a lot. That is why they are in my life and why I am in theirs.
Isabelle is coming next week. I need to tell her that I love her. Then we both might need some ice cream.
Till next time,