In late August I headed back home, along with my three siblings, to surprise my father for his 80th birthday. It was a surprise that lacked all the regular fan fair. Spouses and grandchildren were left behind (in the various provinces and states they call home). There were no balloons, no presents and not even a cake. The gift was our presence with each other; time spent together, live and in the flesh. For three days, we simply went about living together. We chatted over coffee, went for walks, ate good food and visited some of the local attractions in our home town (fish derby, winery, local park). It was just the six of us for the first time in more than 25 years, and this fact alone was enough to captivate all of us.
As I left my parents’ place, I was reminded that the best versions of things often arrive through a process of reduction. Diamonds are created through a reduction of carbon, brought about by heat and pressure; a sauce on the stove is reduced to enhance and intensify its flavours. However, with synonyms like lessen, diminish, weaken and cheapen, the word “reduce” has become the antithesis to growth in a world so captivated by consumption and expansion. Yet when you look at its Latin roots, an entirely different interpretation comes to light. In this ancient mindset, reducere means “to bring back, restore,” marking a return of what might have previously been lost or forgotten. In many ways, the process of reduction becomes a boiling off, an intentional shedding of what is no longer needed. What remains is the essence, the stuff that matters most.
When Canadian poet and singer Leonard Cohen was near the end of his life, he was asked in an interview why he dedicated so much time and energy to meditation. His response was simple: “The less there was of me, the happier I got.” Perhaps the path to the happiness we are seeking is not in acquiring and expanding, but in reducing ourselves and our experiences to their essence. The rise of minimalism, meditation, capsule wardrobes and tiny homes have become harbingers of such a change. People are starting to shed what doesn’t matter and make room for what brings them the most joy.
And so this week, my thoughts have been sitting in this place of unwinding and pondering what it means to live a reduced life. A life where our relationships (with ourselves and with others), our needs and our lifestyles are reduced to the point where we have the space and energy to attend to what matters most. In many ways, the surprise party for my dad was a nod to this. It was an opportunity for my siblings, my mother and me to attend to what we cherish most—our father and the gift that his life has been in ours.