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THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

Posted on June 23rd, 2011

Lester ’71 and Mary Beth ’72 Lind were undergraduates at EMU when the environmental movement was taking off. They were on campus when the first Earth Day was celebrated. They took part when the college offered a January term focused on environmental issues. And they drew inspiration from a popular saying of the time – “live simply so others can simply live.”

“We decided to take that little phrase fairly seriously,” says Lester, who returned to EMU to earn an MA in religion in 1994. “Simplicity grew from a concern for the environment and justice to become a guiding principle of our faith.”

And so, not long after they graduated, the Linds settled in Harman, West Virginia, near Mary Beth’s childhood home, putting their commitment to simplicity into action. Working part-time jobs, they lived a little above the poverty line, which was comfortable enough for their tastes.

They grew much of their own food, and for a long period, plenty of surplus produce for restaurants, grocery stores and farmers’ markets. They chose not to have children, and if they ever ended up with more money than they needed, they gave it away – all decisions guided by the Linds’ commitment to simplicity and stewardship, and all decisions that have left them with a deep sense of satisfaction.

“It was a lot of hard work, and it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it …the reward is great,” says Lester.

Now, he and Mary Beth live in a house they built in Philippi, West Virginia, closer to their congregation of Philippi Mennonite Church. One of the ways they tried to incorporate sustainability into their new house was through its one-floor design, meant to make household life easier as the two of them age.

As that time approaches, decisions the Linds made earlier in life about income and livelihood have presented them with new challenges, like finding a way to fund retirement after a life spent avoiding the accumulation of money. Without insurance through an employer, healthcare costs have also become of increasing concern.

“Our values of simplicity seem incongruent with a healthcare system that is not sustainable,” Lester says.

These realities, the Linds say, have significant implications for how people can pursue lifestyles based on simplicity. The Mennonite church, Lester adds, could – and should – provide better leadership in alternative ways to fund health care and retirement.

Nevertheless, the Linds remain as committed as ever to the simple lives they chose 40 years ago. “The value of simplicity continues to form who we are and how we live,” Lester says. “If we had it to do all over again? Yes, we would.”

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