Way of life vs lifestyle: Where is style?

There are times in life when things are sure. You remember them as distinctly as memory will allow.

Crossing the bridge that spans the valley of rolling hills. The hills and their dense canopy. The verdure beneath the canopy. A green tangle of ivy, weeds and ferns, the damp smell of growth. Humidity is clinging to your neck.

Walking with your grandpap. His slow deliberate pace challenges your young and hyper legs. The unevenness of a forced cadence is difficult. The summer light is a fading rosy dusk, soft stridulations of crickets fill the air.

In one hand grandpap Jim holds a plum. His other hand works like a magician, sliding into his pant pocket, then a silvery unit emerges in the palm of his hand. His slender wrinkled fingers pinch the blade of a penknife, pulling it open. The thin metal edge of blade sparkles.

Methodically, he cuts the plum into vertical slices and fragrant juices drip down his forearm. There is a deliberate giving and taking, one slice at a time, each enjoying the fruit, until all that remains is the viscous pulp surrounding the pit. This time, you are the lucky one. The pit in your mouth rolls around your teeth as you suck the remaining juice.

Walks to the park with my grandpap formed who I am. He showed me the beauty of nature. He instilled in me a love of words. His eyeglasses sliding down his nose, thick dark hair swept back neatly, he always had wholesome wordplay at the ready, “Punishment by pun, young one.”

Have substance, have faith in God, be honest, give to others, have a sense of humor for it is a mode of intelligence, never advertise anything, always root for the underdog. Those were some of his messages. To borrow from John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl,” he taught me our “Song of the family.”

I am now 36 years old, and I spend a fair amount of time parsing meaning. I find myself once more, spontaneously, in stride with an older, wiser, gentleman.

It is an organic experience in the sense that I met this man very much by chance. Our strides are, at times, natural and easy. Other times, the walk is unnerving. Learning is no easy task.

In a recent exchange, he shared this thought: “Something that has troubled me in our era is the displacement of ‘way of life’ by the term ‘lifestyle’: a way of life signifies roots ... having adherence to something enduring.”

Expounding this point, roots, as in nature, ground us. They are our source of nourishment. Roots are the sum of our values, education and experiences. Roots comprise who we are in terms of substance.

It is easy to fall into the trappings of lifestyle. Just be aware that “way of life” and “lifestyle” are logically incongruent in a time when lifestyle has become a metonymy — from Greek meaning “a change of name” — for consumption. Watch commercials, listen to advertisements, you will be sure to hear lifestyle cleverly tucked into whatever is being pitched.

Instead, know your roots and embrace your way of life, that is stylish! It’s all right to be nostalgic, just avoid being maudlin.

Laugh at yourself while believing in yourself. Stay clear of self-importance. Have faith in others, and they will believe in you, too. Have a currency of conviction and offer it to the community. Be a little wild.

Challenge people’s way of seeing. Carry a penknife, you will use it daily.

Always listen to an older, wiser voice of reason. It will deepen your roots.

Kevin Carey is a father of two living in the Grand Valley. He is an avid biker, thinker and juggler of multiple part-time jobs. Kevin can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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