In A Wizard of Earthsea this bit of dialog from the Archmage to Ged leapt off the page and brought me straight back into my own world:
"And the truth is that as a man's real power grows and as his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do..."
And then just last night as I finished up the last novel in the series, The Other Wind, Le Guin returned to this theme and reminded me yet again of what's been happening in my own life:
"Once when my lord the Archmage was here with me in the Grove, he said to me he had spent his life learning to choose to do what he had no choice but to do."
These brief passages spoke to me powerfully. I'd read these books years ago, and loved them. But if I took any note of this idea back then, it was most likely with a sense of dread that ethics might someday constrain my freedom, my choices, frivolity, my ability to indulge my whims.
The world looks very different to me now. I see that each action of mine has consequences. And I know that most of those consequences affect other people - people far away, and people yet to be born, and other living things as well. I have a sense of myself and my place within the larger pattern of life. Yes, the way I can follow now is narrower and, by the looks of things, becoming ever more so. Yet I don't feel constrained. This is not something imposed on me, and it's not a burden I resent. It is my path. I don't claim that it is either easy or perfect. On the contrary, it is difficult and involves a great deal of struggle, and I'm still learning to choose. But I can say that on this path, my heart is less heavy. I choose, more and more often, to do what I have little choice but to do. I can no longer turn away from that responsibility. While the path before me is narrow, there is a deepening, a sense of putting forth roots, of finding my purpose, of integrity and homecoming and wholeness. I'm hinting here at what cannot be fully expressed, but that thing is what allows me to continue willingly and happily.
What began for me as a shift to a more frugal lifestyle has become a life path of much larger dimensions. Frugality is still a part of much of what I do, and I desperately want us to be free of our mortgage debt. But thrift has become almost an incidental. More central now is the idea of restraint, of finding a way to live my life within means that are sustainable and just. And when I have time to raise my head above my own tasks, I have visions of sharing what I have learned. Sharon's Jewish faith charges her to contribute to the "repair of the world." It's a daunting command. As an atheist, religion offers me no motive, neither the promised rewards nor punishments. Nevertheless, motivation has found me, and I am willing and even hoping to be a small part of the repair of the world.
I know this isn't the usual fare here at Living the Frugal Life. Thanks for listening.