Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Modest Dilemma

Yesterday and today, I have walked around grinning like a kid with a new toy, laughing at myself for doing so, and at the same time trying unsuccessfully to drape a somber veil of spiritual embarrassment over my delight. But the innocent delight won't stay subdued.

Especially when I venture into the "outside world".

I have a new car. New to ME, of course-- it's a '93. Predates my arrival in this town by a year...therefore more than a quarter my own age. Not so new.

But it LOOKS new, at least at first glance. It's sleek and shiny and not obviously banged up. The 1/2 ton Ram pickup I bought for the farm a year ago is actually a year younger--but the truck's paint is very weathered and peeling (typical Dodge), and one side of the bed was caved in before I ever bought it. It was a work truck then, and it's even more of a work truck now, with a ladder rack that converts to a stock rack. A fabulous farm truck, cheap and dependable.

But alas, Porpose gets 10 mpg. Filling the tank--at least a monthly occurance since I've been driving it to work--has recently cost over $100.

Scooter-Bug--the new car--should get 3 times as many miles per gallon. Haven't got a real handle on how accurate the gas gage is yet, but going from steady orange "empty" light to full cost less than a third of filling Porpose. Which, HONESTLY, is the primary reason I bought Scooter-Bug: chronic ecological embarrassment at burning so much gas driving an empty pickup truck around town, and financial dismay at the internal combustion of so many dollars that could go towards more permanent, environmentally-friendly purposes on the farm.

I'd been keeping my eyes and ears open for an alternative for quite awhile, but not much time to shop or test drive. And I wasn't very clear what I wanted. In some ways it made sense to put a rebuilt transmission in the old mini van that's been sitting around the farm since I got back from Canada. "Vera" had been an excellent Farmer's Market vehicle in her days, and could be again if only she could back up. In fact, I had just had my mechanic price the job of making her functional again. I'd also thought about getting a scooter, though winter didn't sound like a lot of fun...or very safe.

Day after day, I sat at a certain traffic light on my way to work looking at the used cars for sale at the scooter dealership near the farm. Minivans, trucks, big things. Several thousand dollars each. Not what I was looking for at all.

I thought I was looking for a hatchback. Or a small station wagon. These had served me well in the past: My first car, Heron, the sporty turquoise "pickup in disguise" Fiat 1283P hatchback (still regret selling that one). Sabot, the "gift horse" Pinto, bought for $1 (it wouldn't run...until I corrected the spark plug wire sequence). The Subaru Legacy wagon. The classic Volvo wagon (Yes, it had over 250,000 miles. No, the tail lights never all worked at the same time.). Something small, practical, better mileage, carry bunches of stuff. Something I could afford to drive to visit my parents, friends in Missouri, other farms.

Then the little turquoise sports car appeared on the lot across from the traffic light. Surely I mis-read the price? Or a digit was missing? It was less than the estimate on the van parts!

But affordable was not the only criterion. Probably it had a big powerful engine that guzzled gas. CERTAINLY it would not carry very much. And it would probably cost a lot every time it needed repairs. Tires would cost a fortune. Plus it didn't look like any Japanese car I was familiar with--and Dad, who was financing the acquisition of more sustainable transportation, wasn't fond of American cars. All the stereotypes rattled through my head.

But it was beautiful, and cheap.

Eventually curiousity go the better of me, and I swung across into the lot one day. It's a Toyota--the hands-down favorite make, among my family! And the Toyota Paseo is a four-cylinder, rated at 28-34 mpg. Four seats mean I can take my daughter and grandchildren places...not possible in the pickup. NOT suitable for Farmer's Market...but it won't hurt to run the truck once a week just to keep it limbered up. And consensus is that it won't mind pulling a small, light trailer, which will make Market do-able eventually.

So I got my desire--cheap to purchase, cheap to run. And a lot of bonuses--sunroof, sporty, pretty, clean. But how hard it is to accept the bonuses in good grace, as gifts rather than embarrassments. How does this brilliant little gemstone of a car fit with my "plain" dress and "simple" living? It's so flashy and sporty and--well--FUN to drive!

Though Scooter-Bug feels like a fun new toy, it's actually a serious tool for my spiritual and farm work. It will let me afford to keep commuting across town to my job, freeing up money for other spiritual work like the farm. It will let me afford to visit my parents. I'll be able to attend spiritual gatherings much more often, and visit my Old Order River Brethren friends in Jamesport, Missouri. I'll be able to afford to do a draft horse apprenticeship next summer.

I think God's message to me, in putting this darling little car into my life, is that I have to be modest about modesty. I can't be too frugal all the time. I can't be too austere all the time. These values are essential to my serenity, and the sustainability of my life. They are healthy and prudent. But denying myself all beauty and pleasure in life is not what God has in mind. And that includes the beautiful creations that His creatures create. Including the mass-produced ones.

There is a more subtle message, too: a reminder that I CAN love machines; I DO enjoy using them; I DON'T have to disdain the wonderful gas-powered tools in my life.

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