September 10, 2010

The Green View / Patricia and Conrad Cortellini

Voluntary simplicity, crossing the line and letting go

Patricia and Conrad CortelliniI love the theoretical. I am just bent that way. The purity and elegance in theoretical and ideological thought call to me like a siren, compelling me to keep 30 years of Scientific American neatly cataloged in my basement.

String Theory, Black Holes, Holography and Fractal Geometry fill my field of interest. I am a dreamer. I admit it—a “shoot for the moon” sort of character, according to my wife, Patricia.

Thus, it has been my good fortune to have married my complement—“Practical Patty.” Patty is everything that I am not.

She is down to earth. She is frugal, compassionate, reverent, sincere, earnest and humble. She is an animal lover, a planner and a saver of money. Patty and I share our lives in a small, one-story “Western bungalow” on a mostly quiet street in Broad Ripple. Even though we may be different in many ways, we share many convictions about living well and responsibly.

A shared discomfort with waste has modified our household routine to include composting and recycling, cutting our landfill contribution by half. I am constantly reminded to turn off the lights because “we don’t own the power and light company.”

We have invested in a Sears chipper, which allows us to recycle leaves and lawn debris into mulch. We maintain a small, natural lawn that never sees chemical fertilizers, herbicide or pesticides, and which I cut with a push reel mower. We garden and can the old-fashioned way. We ride bicycles rather than drive whenever possible.

Patty takes joy in feeding the birds. “God’s creatures,” she calls them. The windows of our home are open as many days and nights as possible. Reliance on air conditioning is held to a minimum—only days with 90-plus temperatures force us to turn it on.

In the cool of a recent morning, as Patty and I sipped on St. Basil fair trade coffee while watering and caring for the garden, I began to grumble about the incessant noise produced by our neighbors’ air conditioning compressors. “It’s 65 degrees. You don’t need air conditioning. What a waste. I can’t believe not one of our neighbors ever opens his windows.”

Patty smiled, placed her hand on mine and quietly said, “It’s OK. It’s just that we have crossed the line.”

To explain how “we have crossed the line” and changed our lives for the better, Patty will share her thoughts through the final part of our column.

The line is a marked change in how you think and relate to the world. Conrad stepped over the line when he dedicated his architecture practice to green design. I crossed over the line when I became unemployed. After months of unemployment, I started working part-time jobs at $10 an hour in order to make ends meet.

This experience changed my perspective on life. During the year and a half of three low-paying jobs and counting pennies, the hardship transformed into something extremely profound. We began to “let go.”

We let go of our egos, of pride, of stuff and of control. What emerged was a stronger bond between us, a greater appreciation for friends, the knack of living frugally and a deep level of fearless trust.

As my mind cleared of clutter, I began to truly listen to God’s small voice and it was beautiful. By following his call, I was led to a wonderful new job. I also learned the rewards of volunteering, and that the things I thought are important really aren’t.

The new, simpler me is happier, healthier and more fulfilled than ever before. I do not know what the future holds. What I do know is that God is generous in more ways than I can ever anticipate.

Yes, we have crossed the line to living simply and there is no going back.

(Patricia and Conrad Cortellini are members of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis.)

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