The best things in life are (more or less) free

pink flowers

Now, at the risk of sounding like a great big softy, I have to share a moment that I experienced recently that reminded me of the real value of money and the place I want it to have in my life.

Over the weekend, I was driving around Queen Anne hill in Seattle, trying to find a place that I plan on volunteering at in the near future. Seattle is a nice city, but it is mostly made up of dead-end one-way streets and a couple major highways, patrolled largely by small women with small cell phones in large SUVs who seem unaware that anyone else could possibly occupy part of the road as well.

As usual, I was lost. I wasn't aided by the fact that someone had found it hilarious to turn some of the street signs around so that I was driving in a windy circle, believing mistakenly that I was somehow repeatedly passing my location, which was, in fact, several blocks away.

In desperation, I made a sudden right turn onto a street that looked promising. Dead end. I pulled back out onto the street, made a right, and another right. Dead end.

I believe that my response was to scream some obscenities. I pulled over, trying to calm my nerves. I had exactly 10 minutes to get where I was going, and I was pretty sure that half of that would be occupied finding parking.

When I looked up, I realized that I had pulled onto what had to be the loveliest street in all of Seattle.

This is my favorite time of year. I've fortunately outgrown my allergies to pollen, so spring doesn't affect me badly the way it used to. I'm enjoying the warmer weather and blooming bulbs, the way the grass, dormant for so long, grows a couple of inches overnight and smells so green in the early morning. But my favorite things in the world are the blossoming flowers.

Seattle has a lot of cherry trees. We have a longstanding relationship with Japan, so all over the city, you'll find trees that are gifts from various Japanese sister cities or governments. People grow them in their yards, too, of course.

The street that I pulled over on was lined with cherry trees. Those little strips of grass and yard that are located in front of homes,but separate from the front yard, between the sidewalk and the street? I don't even know what they're called. These little strips were covered, from one end of the small street to the other, with flowering pink trees. The trees had been blooming for a week or so, so the blossoms were just beginning to fall. So the entire street was carpeted in tiny, delicate pink petals.

I opened my window, turned off the car, and leaned back to breathe and relax. The air was sweet and honey-like, with a touch of spice from some nearby cottonwoods that were just beginning to sprout moist, chartreuse leaf buds. It was as though all my responsibilities simply fell away, all my obligations and worries and frustrations, which are many.

Most of the best and happiest moments of my life have been with my family. This was the best of my solitary moments, the most Zen-like time I had allowed myself in a very long time.

I started give myself one of those "best things in life are free" lectures, but I realized that money allowed me to be where I was (and not working), and money allowed me to have my small car that nearly gets creamed by SUVs. Money allows me to live in the city so that I don't have to drive very far to get frustrated and pull off onto a beautiful cul de sac where the air was fresh and sweet and the parking was plentiful. Money bought those trees. I don't mean to seem cynical or jaded, but I'm certainly not naive enough to believe that money isn't a deep and integral part of so much of what we do and see and want and love.

But money didn't make those trees bloom. I'm not religious, so I didn't thank any higher power for my moment of Zen, but I feel grateful for it. For having experienced it then, and for being able to remember its power weeks later, stuck in traffic on I-5, occasionally dodging SUVs, driven by small women, talking on small cell phones.

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Will Chen's picture

It is kind of sad that we kill ourselves trying to make money to buy things we don't need while ignoring the little free things that make life truly worth living.