Live simply so others can simply live

Slamming the door on her purple Toyota RAV 4, my ex-girlfriend stormed around to the back of the vehicle and slung open the rear hatch so hard I thought the back was going to fall off.  Grabbing several of the grocery bags, she threw open the door to her house and marched inside like the Wicked Witch of the West going after Dorothy’s slippers.

Taking the rest of the groceries up the steps, I followed her in.  As I sat them on the counter I told her, “Vickie*, I’m not saying that it’s wrong for people to have nice things – it’s just wrong when nice things start to have people.”

Whirling around from the refrigerator with fire in her eyes, she pointed her finger at me and said, “Jerry, if people knew how simple you live they would think you had mental health problems.”

As the lyrics and music to “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen drifted through my brain I finished putting the groceries away for her before heading to the door and closing it softly behind me as I moved down the stairs and into the street.

Vickie was right about one thing – and it wasn’t the mental health problems.  She was right in the comment that I live simply.  My lifestyle is by choice and not by accident though.

Besides the laptop (which I need for work) and my camera gear, right now I have with me a grand total of three shirts, four pairs of socks, a pair of hiking boots and my ever present pack of cigarettes.  My lifestyle is simple for one big reason.  It gives me freedom.

The freedom to do these road trips for example.  I can pick up on the spur of the moment and head out to all points of the compass without having to worry about what am I going to do about my “stuff”.  The basics of life – or my “stuff” is almost always with me.

My simple lifestyle gives me the freedom to wander along the nation’s highways capturing people, places and things (events) and share them with you so that you can stay aware of what’s going on in the country and enjoy sights and scenes that you may not be able to otherwise.  I don’t tell you this to try to sound like I’m saying look what a great guy I am, there’s an alternative motive.

When I post a photo or share an article that someone has published, I get a bigger kick out of your comments and feedback than the money I get paid for the photo or article.  Recently I got an email from an 81 year old lady in Boston telling me how she used to enjoy traveling with her husband and children as the kids were growing up.  Now her husband is deceased and her three kids live in other states.  She wrote to tell me that through my website she feels she can recapture some of the fun and excitement that she felt all those years ago.  The feel-good-chemistry that I got from reading that email is one that can’t be replaced by the latest 42” big screen television.

And then there’s the freedom to not be in a rush – the ability to stop and smell the roses.

On the bus ride out to Arkansas from West Virginia I had a two hour layover in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Not wanting to waste a couple hours in a grimy bus station, I wandered around downtown “Cincy” with my camera gear.  Spotting a peaceful little out-of-the-way park, I wandered in to see what shots I could get.

Setting the gear on a camera bench I dialed in the lens and noticed a little girl about five years old prancing around showing people her new dress.  My curiosity got the better of me and I strolled over to where her mom was sitting and gave her my card as I introduced myself.  I’m glad I did.

The lady said her name was Heather** and her daughter’s name was Amy Jo**.  Heather, who was in her early twenties, and I got to talking.  Seems that a month ago Heather had gotten tired of her husband coming home drunk and beating her up, so she moved out.  Not having family in town and nowhere to go, she checked into the local woman’s shelter while she tried to pull her life together.  Life was hard for Heather and she didn’t have any money, but she was grateful that the folks at the shelter fed her and her daughter and helped Heather get around the city for job interviews.  Despite being in the middle of one of life’s storms, she was optimistic that things would turn around.

Just the day before, a lady volunteer at the shelter slid Heather a twenty dollar bill for Heather to be able to get some makeup and treat Amy Jo to McDonald’s.  While heather was picking up some mascara at Wal-Mart, Amy Jo spotted a dress that she just had to have – the one she had on now.

Doing a quick mental calculation, Heather figured that she could get the makeup for the interview, treat Amy Jo to a Kid’s Meal at McDonalds and still have enough left for the dress if she didn’t eat herself.  That’s what she did and the end result was Amy Jo proudly skipping around the park in Cincinnati showing everyone her new dress.

Pointing to the camera over my shoulder, I asked Heather would it be ok if I took a photograph of Amy Jo.  Smiling she nodded and said, “Would you?” and she called Amy Jo over.  After introducing Amy Jo to me and telling her I was going to take her photograph, Amy Jo posed proudly in her new dress.  After squeezing off several shots, I told Heather to send me an email and I’d send her the photos I had just taken.

Last week, here in Arkansas, I got an email from Heather telling me the rest of the story.  She went to the library one day to check her email and there was the photograph from me.  Giving the lady at the counter twenty five cents to print it off, she tucked it into her purse.  That evening when she and Amy Jo got back to the shelter she found a cheap frame in the shelter thrift store and put the photograph in it.  Later that night when Amy Jo came in from the playground, Heather gave it to her.

Apparently now that photograph is, according to Heather, one of Amy Jo’s most prized possessions.  Heather emailed me to tell me that the photograph is sitting on the nightstand beside Amy Jo’s bed in the shelter and each night before going to sleep, Amy Jo looks at the photograph, remembers the feel of having a new dress, and whispers “Good night Mr. Jerry” before falling asleep.

I don’t share that story with you to say anything other than if I didn’t live simply, I would’ve missed being a part of that little girl’s life.

By now you may be asking yourself what’s the point of my rambling here today.  I’ll tell you.  I’ve got a client that owes me $1,000.00.  He hasn’t paid.  He keeps coming up with one excuse after another and keeps promising that I’ll have my money “tomorrow”.  Well, “tomorrow” has not arrived despite waiting two weeks.  I was finally able to get him to give me enough money for the ticket to Colorado, but that’s it.

I’m really embarrassed to say this, but I could use your help.  The annual fee on my website is due May 1st and I have to have it paid by April 30th.  It costs $150 a year and I had planned on paying it out of the money my client owes me.

If you could pitch in just a little, I would appreciate it.  Here’s what I’ll do for anyone that will donate $1 or more.  I’ll email you a digital file of ANY photograph on my website as my thanks AND I’ll set up a webpage on my site called “Hall of Heroes” – or something like that – and list your name along with my extremely grateful thanks for your help.

Click here to donate any amount that you are comfortable with and please remember how grateful I am for your help!

*Yah, that’s her real name.  No need here to fib to protect anyone’s privacy.
** No, not their real names.

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