Why good enough is just right

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screengrab: nytimes.com

You know how certain words seem to sum up where you are at any given point in life?

Our lives have tended to swing between a couple: adventure and stability.

Our life at Beacon Hill Friends House feels like an unusual balance of the two, prompting a new word: Enough.

Not only enough adventure and enough stability, but enough of most of the elements that go into each: enough new, enough familiar; enough fun, enough work; enough easy, enough hard.

Not that we’ve got it all worked out. This week finds us still wrestling with a question Carol posed  in this space a few months ago: Keep or sell the car?

That would be a foolish question in several places we’ve lived, especially Florida. But life with the MBTA rumbling beneath the house (the Red Line between Park and Charles Street stations) frames the question in larger terms.

The combination of our senior citizen T passes (just a buck a ride as opposed to $2.50) and those Zipcars stashed along the Green Line suggests we may have quite enough transportation at our disposal without the hassle of maintaining a car on Beacon Hill.

There may be enough resident parking places available for people willing to fight for them and/or in critical need of a personal vehicle. Perhaps not enough parking places for people — like us — with workable alternatives.

Enough has also emerged as the critical metric of shelter. Is our one-room-toilet-down-the-hall arrangement enough space? Enough convenience? A couple of recent New York Times pieces spanned the range of what’s enough: this piece summed up by the headline, “Freedom in 704 Square Feet,” and this piece about a 9,000 square foot home as the centerpiece example of “Big is Back.”

Closer to home, the Boston Globe fronts an article this morning about a condo just a few doors down from BHFH on Chestnut Street: “For Trinity Church rector, a $3.6 million home.”

Not that long ago, my assessment of these housing options would have been fueled by moral judgment. These days, I find myself asking a question instead: “What’s enough?” There are wildly different answers to that question for each of the people profiled in the three articles, of course.

Increasingly, we find ourselves answering the “enough” question with other questions: If we have this much physical space, for example, does that leave enough psychic space for us to live the lives we want to live?

The risk of having “more than enough” — of space, food, you name it — is the likelihood of throwing your life out of whack. In this context, the idea of “good enough” doesn’t connote settling; it connotes calibrating.

Increasingly, we’re discovering that less is more when it comes to the enough question.

To offer just one example, there’a something about living in a smaller space that prompts talk of bigger topics.

Our friend, Julie Moos, posed a question on Facebook yesterday with a link to this New York Times essay about keys to a successful long-term marriage, “Good enough? That’s Great.”

“Long-time marrieds,” Julie asked, “what do you think?”

Coming up on 44 years married, I guess we qualify. My response to that headline: Exactly right.

What word characterizes your life these days?

4 thoughts on “Why good enough is just right

  1. Bill, thank you for sharing this. Of the many things you’ve written over the years, this essay may be my favorite. This line really captures it for me: ” ‘good enough’ doesn’t connote settling; it connotes calibrating.” I find it especially meaningful following years of the signature phrase, “Life is good, there’s just too much of it.” Now, there is just enough. I hope to find that balance someday. Once again, you inspire me.

    • My word is “ravishing.”

      My wife is ravishing. Not all the time. But after all the things we’ve done, our souls dance together once in a while when we’re having supper or rolling around in bed, and there’s comes a place which is a bit of everything we’ve done together which is so delicate, sweet and delicious, known only to us, that it’s ravishing.

      I’m ravishing too. Not all the time. When I tie all my experiences together and look inwards, I once in a while find a pond of the wonderful that I can be close to ecstatic about. After I’ve fired and been fired. After I work on deadlines and wonder whether this person is going to be productive, I take a rest from that and find something that’s inside me that survives and it’s ravishing.

      God is ravishing too. Not all the time. But this God has life and the umph behind all communion that makes things wondrous. Ravishing is too small a word.

      New life, a baby, a plant and its miracles, all these surround me like a peapod in a hothouse or blowing bubbles in a long bath on a cold day. That makes me feel at home. And life in this home for these moments is ravishing.

      So, that’s my word. Most of the time I miss it or ignore it, but blink-blink-quiet, sure enough, it’s there.

      Bill and Carol, it would be sorta ravishing to get your email address and phone number again. Love you,

      Joe Radelet–215-783-4335–radeletphilly@aol.com

  2. Reminds me of an interview I did years ago with the archbishop of San Francisco who, ushering me into his palatial estate in Pacific Heights, quipped, “It’s not home, but it’s much.”

    “Good enough” has been our mantra for a few years now, which is a tad different than “enough.”

    Meanwhile — get rid of the car. You can always get another if you really miss it, which I don’t think you will.

  3. With just 25 years of marriage under our belts, Laura and I are rookies at this stuff. But we’re in a similar place, preparing to sell our beautiful old (and huge and expensive to heat and impossible to keep clean) New Hampshire farmhouse now that the kids are both settled into college. Oh, and did I mention that we are planning to move to a new city for new jobs soon?

    Amid all that transition, I find your exploration of “enough” to make me think of another word that is its close cousin — gratitude.

    For so much of my life, I’ve been asking those “enough” questions: Am I good enough? Do I make enough? Am I spending enough quality time with the kids? Is what we’ve got enough, or should I be striving for something more? For me and Laura, such questions are still in play to some degree. But I also find that, as we prepare to turn the page on a big chapter of our lives — raising kids, and who’d have thought that would ever end?! — I’m feeling a surge of appreciation — of gratitude — for the richness that is … right … now.

    And that, Bill, is enough.

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