For my last birthday, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a gift certificate good for a “behind the scenes encounter” our local zoo. There were lots of different options to choose from (some easily ruled out, as I have no desire to get up close and personal with large reptiles.) I chose the Penguin Encounter, and last Tuesday, my husband and I joined a small group of people who toured of the zoo’s penguin facilities. We learned how the penguins are cared for at the zoo as well as how they live in the wild. We also learned about the zoo’s efforts to preserve the natural habitat of penguins, and finally, we were actually able to “meet” a couple penguins.
We were instructed to sit quietly on the floor in a large circle. Then the keeper led in two penguins, explaining that these two were well socialized and accustomed to walking around in the building. We were allowed to gently touch their back or chest with one hand if they came close enough that we could touch them without leaning forward or extending our arm. Sure enough, one of them waddled right up to me, and now I can honestly say that I have “petted a penguin.”
I really appreciated this gift, and not just because it was so fun to interact with a real penguin. It also served as a timely reminder that what I value most in life has nothing to do with material objects and everything to do with how I get to spend my time. Hanging out with my grandson, going on a trip to somewhere I’ve never been before, having dinner with good friends, even helping someone in need: these are the experiences that make life so interesting and that create memories that stay with us forever.
Like most people, I have a tendency to acquire far more things than I actually need, and even a bit more than I truly want. I think it’s partly a result of human nature, and partly a result of the consumer-driven society I happen to live in. It’s so easy for us to believe we want or need something, especially if we happen to notice that lots of other people really want it too. (Remember Beanie Babies?) Sometimes it seems as if unreasonable greed lives just below the surface in most of us, just waiting for something to trigger it.
But the truth of the matter is I have almost everything I need or want, and there really is very little reason to bring even more stuff into my modestly-sized house. Which is something I’ll need to remember as I help my mom sort through all the things she’s accumulated but has no room for as she downsizes into her new apartment next month. There’s going to be a whole lot of stuff that needs a new home, and I want to make sure that very little of it finds its way over to my house.
Because when you come right down to it, stuff is just that: stuff. And accumulating too much of it just makes our houses too crowded and our lives too complicated. Far better to spend our time and energies doing the things that make us happy. And who knows? Sometimes that might even mean petting a penguin…..