ROME – Two days ago, I sat watching the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea with two good friends and an even better bottle of wine. My friends and I were hiking through Le Cinque Terre, a string of five hillside towns in northern Italy, when we decided to sneak into a patch of wine vineyards to take a break. The vineyards literally hung over a cliff and we sat, with our legs dangling above the water 1,000 feet below us, amongst clouds of pink, purple, grey and blue.
It was a rare momentary glimpse into life’s perfection when all the world seemed quiet and still. As I exhaled from my cigarette, I noticed a fishing boat coasting above the horizon and found myself wishing I too could be a fisherman. This way, I could stay to live a life of serene simplicity by the coast, instead of having to go back to the hustle of life in the city.
On the train ride back to Rome, where I am studying abroad for the semester, I began to think about the possibility more seriously, applying the reality of it to the context of our everyday existence. We, as Americans, work our entire lives to find direction and comfort so that in our elderly years we can feel reassured about our success. But what if we could omit all the fodder in the middle and skip directly toward our ideal ending? Would that make us any less accomplished?
Our society teaches us that hard work is one of the supporting principles of our morale system. Hard workers are glorified as successful people who matter, people are actually “doing something” with their lives. Does that then mean that people who “take it easy” should qualify as unproductive, wasteful citizens?
We Americans have a funny way of doing things. We enter university almost habitually and scramble to find a job or a suitable place for more schooling.
Once a job is landed, we save money to accumulate the proper possessions – a house, car, insurance and your own set of Mikasa formal dinnerware, for important guests only. At last, the kids are securely sent off to college, and you, in your older age, can finally cash in on all your hard work. And what better way to reward yourself than with a vacation to the mountains or the beach where you can swim, fish, read, write, study gastronomy and genuinely relax?
Ironically, if the aforementioned is the ideal end result, then what were we doing all those years paying off loans and mortgages, attending cheesy company holiday parties, and suffering through rush-hour traffic just to do what we could already be doing without all the nonsensical fuss? Albeit, the catch is life without a sport utility vehicle and TiVo, but that’s not really much of a catch.
Call it an idealistic, or even naive perspective, if you must. But call it lazy, and that’s where we begin to disagree on the definition. Equating slow and simple with laziness or ineffectiveness is the warped American version of how we define success. And that’s where the problem is.
Keep in mind: The point is not that of neglecting our responsibilities or living life indolently. Life can still be productive and full without having to be indulgent and fast-paced. Everyone is capable of a living life in a billion and one different ways. And each one of these different ways is as respectable as working 60 hours a week in an attorney’s office.
Yet any one of us could potentially be tanning hides in the deserts of Morocco, making cheese on Italian hillsides, brewing beer in Amsterdam or planting trees by the southern coasts of Portugal. But for one reason or another, many of us are in college now so we can one day become investment bankers, dentists and lawyers. Does that not seem odd to anybody else?
Eva Liao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.