So, here I am, in New Jersey. My home state but definitely not my home.
Thursday we stayed at the Sadowski residence. Friday we went to Brunswick Square Mall because I forgot to pack my husband’s pants for the plane. We don’t get out much, especially to malls, particularly to those malls with that distinctive Jersey flavor. An experience in sensory overload to say the least.
LOUD MUSIC! PLUNGING NECKLINES! SIX FOOT TALL TWO DIMENSIONAL CLEAVAGE!
After the mall I had to stop by Shoprite for some drinks and snacks. Inside I was not prepared for the magnitude of it all. Aside from the crowds of people shopping midday during the week, there was the shock of an eyeglass store as well as a jeweler’s shop. Only in Jersey (or Walmart) do people find pleasure in the sheer convenience of buying all their crap in one place.
I grew up in love with New Jersey. The butt of many jokes, I defended New Jersey. From where I stood, the state had everything going for it. Easy access to the beach, mountains and New York. A good highway system. Cheap gas. Lots of hardcore bands and shows.
But now when I visit New Jersey I find very little defendable about the place. While the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania may be populated with hicks, they are at least, for the most part, pious hicks. Unfortunately, I found that the people in the stores I visited in New Jersey reminded me of the parents-turned-pigs in “Spirited Away.”
The roads are overcrowded and everything seems to be moving on passion’s adrenaline and the swipe of a credit card. True, I have to travel 30 miles to get to the nearest Walmart, the closest store around. But to get anywhere in New Jersey takes at least fourty minute drive anyway because of the traffic.
At least we got to stay with devotees.
Friday nite was a bhajan program organized by Kalpa Vrksa Prabhu at a yoga studio. Kisori’s brother even went. As we were driving to the program I was thinking how so much spiritually is going on in New Jersey. Saturday there was a home program and Saturday nite was bhajans for Kartik at Brooklyn (ok, not NJ but still within the 40 minute driving radius). I began to lament not living here. And not being able to ever afford living here, a place where teeny tiny two bedroom houses go for $350,000.
We kept driving. And driving. And driving. It took us an hour to get from Kisori’s to the program. It was 8 pm by the time I got my two kids out of the car and up the stairs to the yoga studio. Many devotees were there as well as people from the yoga studio. Kalpa and Kadamba led melodious chanting. Dhokla was had by all. But it was so late at nite and my kids were so freaking out. And that’s when I began to curse New Jersey. Terrible New Jersey. Moded New Jersey. Suburban sprawl New Jersey. New Jersey was keeping my kids up late, making them cry. New Jersey was leading me on, tricking me into thinking that my kids would be able to handle a late nite program. After all, all the New Jersey devotee kids were doing okay.
My kids were not okay and neither was I. We will recover, however, when we go home to our quiet house shaded by old growth maples, heated with the radiant warmth of our wood stove. Sometimes it is difficult for me to articulate the benefits and pleasures of the austerity of living at Gita Nagari. Sometimes caught up in the cliche of mode of goodness I take for granted that we are living a life much more in the mode of goodness than my suburban counterparts.
The cost of living in Juniata Valley is drastically lower than the cost of living in New Jersey. Heck, even North Carolina. Our Gita Nagari house is $100,000 less than our North Carolna house making it possible,had we actually gone to India, for my husband to take off 3 months from work and still, by year’s end, make ends meet.
New Jersey requires a faster pace of life. This means more energy expended to make money and therefore, more energy expended to enjoy the fruit of one’s toils. With so little time on one’s hands, the culture is a culture of convenience. For this reason, packaged food seems to make perfect sense in this context. At the same time, I see how having premade, prepackaged food also deadens the awareness for what people eat. Without the effort going into actually cooking and preparing the food, there is very little effort put into eating the food. Rather, people tend to mindlessly consume.
This phenomena occurs everywhere, be it rural, suburban or urban, however I know that out in the country where I live I am not the only one making jam. Preserving and drying the harvest. Fresh baked breads, cakes and pies. Even boiling down your own maple syrup. All of this goes on with frequency in the country. Not only does eating food you took the time to actually cook slow you down at the dinner table but it also helps reduce packaging and consequently post-consumer waste.
At home I take my bucket to the barn and buy my milk, saving the landfill of 5 gallon jugs a week. I make my own yogurt, bake my own bread. We snack on homemade popcorn, fruit and freshly baked pastries. We get clean tasting water not from the store but from our well–free of flouride and chlorine, no plastic bottle required. Fifty pound bags of sugar and 25 pound bags of flour aren’t a problem to store in our almost 3,000 sq. ft. farmhouse. And our mortgage (including taxes) is less than some people’s car payments.
I’m not trying to brag about our wonderful life out in the middle of nowhere. It has its drawbacks, for sure. But I see how Krishna is showing me the beauty of it. As winter nears and everyone prepares to hibernate around their wood stoves, I have this visit to New Jersey to compare my life against. New Jersey has two things Gita Nagari may never have–shopping and people. But Gita Nagari has my values and my heart.
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