13: True Contentment

13: True Contentment

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

True Contentment

I like to walk about among the beautiful things that adorn the world; but private wealth I should decline, or any sort of personal possessions, because they would take away my liberty.

~George Santayana

He called himself a permanent camper — not homeless, not a bum. His living and working arrangements were by choice, not circumstances. He didn’t use drugs, he wasn’t an alcoholic, and he didn’t take handouts.

The man had prosperous siblings who had urged him to return to his home state, take their money, and maybe even establish his own business. But he didn’t like the strings attached to the arrangement, and besides, he’d left home thirty years earlier specifically because of his family. So instead of pursuing a college education like his brothers, or becoming a corporate workaholic like his dad, the Permanent Camper opted for his own free style of living. When just a teen, he began wandering until he eventually settled in the woods located in Central Florida. For the next thirteen years, his dwelling arrangement remained tucked out of sight, and he survived by working odd jobs as needed.

Somewhere along the line, the Permanent Camper and my husband became friends. Maybe it was the Permanent Camper’s work ethic and abilities or maybe it was the intelligent dialogue that attracted them to each other. I’m sure the Permanent Camper’s lifestyle and reduced responsibilities appealed to my husband. And the Permanent Camper’s experiences, which ranged from living with the Navaho Indians to becoming a chess champion, certainly provided fuel for conversation.

As a result, the Permanent Camper frequently visited our home, often helping my husband with yard work (the camper knew all about irrigation systems), or organizing the garage (the camper worked twice as fast as my husband), or hanging Christmas lights (the camper was younger and more agile). Following the work projects, the two would sit in the driveway and chat over a cold drink, or come inside to watch some sports event.

Over time, the Permanent Camper joined in on family activities — dinners, movie night, holidays. Our grandkids enjoyed playing Frisbee with him, and he showed our granddaughter how to bead. It was following one such family activity that the Permanent Camper reminded me of an important life principle. Until that time, I’d not envied him.

We sat in the living room watching a football game and enjoying a variety of finger foods. The camper leaned back in his chair and patted his stomach. “I never imagined having so much in life,” he said.

I know I must have looked at him with a perplexed expression. He continued. “I have no wants and my life overflows with blessings. God has given me more opportunities and relationships than I ever imagined I’d have.”

I was flabbergasted. His heart was full of joy and gratitude. This man who lived in a tent, read by candlelight, rode a bike to get around, showered behind gas stations and shopping strips, was totally content with life. He had all he needed or really cared for: his own “home,” practical education from hands-on experience as well as knowledge from his extensive reading, opportunities to play in chess tournaments, and fellowship with good friends. “Things” mattered little to him, and he was satisfied with twenty-five-cent T-shirts from the thrift store or inexpensive fast foods. He actually preferred sleeping in his own tent rather than spending the night in a friend’s house, and he didn’t mind walking or biking miles to a destination.

I seldom heard the Permanent Camper complain. If he did, it was mainly about politics or the “bums” who expected others to provide for them rather than making every effort to be self-sufficient — like him.

I had so much to be thankful for, but too often, I worried instead of expressing my gratitude. I was always trying to gain more, rather than being satisfied and content with what I had. But I had to admit, sometimes I’d felt the same way as the camper — my heart full of joy and gratitude because God had provided more than I could ever imagine.

From that moment on, I saw the Permanent Camper through different eyes. I accepted his hippy-style appearance, his life preferences — and his worthiness. And now, he’s not just my husband’s handyman or friend. For me, the Permanent Camper has become family.

~Georgia Bruton

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