61: “Not Because They Are Easy” (Bill Bryson)

                “[We choose to do these things] not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” -John F. Kennedy
                “Never forget that the first syllable of convenience is con.” -Bill Bryson, I’m A Stranger Here Myself

                The con, of course, is that my life will be better when my car locks itself automatically, my pens never leak, my clothes never wrinkle, and every dinner takes no more than a minute in the microwave. The con is that making communication easier and easier (facebook; texting; snapchat) helps us to connect. The con is that my life’s better when all my shopping ‘needs’ are met by one big mall, or better still, by Amazon where I can shop without wearing any pants. I’ve fallen for it: most of my slacks are made from that fabric that’s not supposed to wrinkle, and a bit ago I bought stamps online.
                Convenience is from Latin: the root’s the same as “convene,” which comes from com- (“together”) and venire (“to come”). “To come together:” to choose a place, and meet there. In the late 1600s we get the transition to “conveniences,” the material possessions that make our lives more comfortable. There’s another con: “comfort,” from conforten, “to cheer up,” which is itself from the Latin com- (an intensive prefix; like an early “hella”) and fort (“strength”).
All good cons are lies based on truths. I do want something near here: but I think, more than the ease of instant communication, I want the effort of meeting together, a standing here and sharing. I do want comfort, but I want the kind that means to make strong–not to make easy. Not to make thoughtless, simple, or quick. To truly comfort is to help roots in growing, branches in reaching, the tree in standing tall.
                I carefully arrange my errands geographically so I can take the quickest, most convenient path. I don’t look forward to them. But the truth is, when I finally get out the door, I usually enjoy them. I like seeing people. I like talking with someone about which radishes to buy, I like holding the door open, I like sharing a smile. I like all the little things that say, there are other people here, living their lives. I have my wrinkle-free clothes. My roommate irons his instead. His always look a bit better, and whenever I see him ironing, he seems to honestly enjoy the careful attention, the play of heat and water, the smoothness of the fabric.
                The con is that we can go back to being babies, with everything done for us; and that, if we could live that way now that we’re grown, we would like it. The con is that worth comes from ease, not work. Like all great cons, it catches us because we choose it. It plays on what we want–or what we think we want, and then we’re left with less: less messiness, less work to do, less life. And like all great cons, it’s built upon some truth: the truth of coming together, of being here with you. The truth of growing stronger in mind and body, not so we can do less, but so we can dance with the wind.
                We choose to do these things, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

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