The phrase was aggregate our marginal gains.
I found this valuable because it applies tellingly to a life of simplicity.
If one walks the badger tracks rather than the highway, the whole lot is marginal – all gains are marginal! Income is low, status is minimal or non-existent, one has no platform, nothing with which to impress, no strings to pull.
But the aggregation of one’s gains here in the margins amounts to a life of contentment.
For me, ‘going out’ means literally leaving the house – maybe to take a parcel to the Post Office or buy some vegetables. My life is not quite as small and confined as Emily Dickinson’s but it ain’t far off.
Even so, my contacts are not limited or impoverished, because one of my marginal gains is a laptop and the world wide web.
I often hear online friendships referred to in a derogatory way, as if they were not real, a mere substitute for honest encounter – but this is a faulty evaluation.
I have friends online – in Australia, in America, in Europe – whose fellowship and perspectives enrich and illuminate my life. Some, I have never met. As we all share a common dedication to lives of simplicity, we are most of us not rich, so it is possible I never shall meet them; air fares are expensive. Some, I have met in person but we live a great distance apart and nourish our friendship online. And then there are those with whom I’ve found a way to meet up – snatched an opportunity. One such was my friend Mary, met online, who teaches at the Daniel Academy and is part of Kansas City’s 24/7 prayer meeting. She came to England when her daughter (as a component of degree studies) enrolled for a term at Oxford University. So Mary flew in from Kansas for a few days, and I travelled up to Aylesbury with the Badger and thence to Oxford when he went in to work. Mary and her daughters and I had morning coffee, complete with a plate of the most delectable pastries, in the splendid surroundings of the Randolph Hotel just opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum in Oxford. It was such a happy meeting, and even if we never again have the chance to meet neither of us will forget.
I’ve delighted in meeting a few times with friends discovered on St Pixels online church, of which I was a member when I lived in Aylesbury. Some of those friendships have been enduring treasures – and one is with my friend Emle (her online name, nit her real name), who lives in a very remote and beautiful part of Scotland. BUT – it turns out she sometimes comes to visit family in York, and not a year can go by without my travelling up to York once or twice, just for a couple of nights, for Minster evensong and tea at Bettys, and to visit Carmelite friends at Thorganby.
So here are Emle and me, aggregating our marginal gains at Little Betty’s in Stone gate.
Can you believe it, just for two days (the length of our stay), the grey drear broke, the sun shone and the skies were blue over North Yorkshire!
And here’s a Minster angel, newly washed and polished in the ambitious restoration of the huge (23m or 76ft) east window, saying ‘Hi’ to you online, all the way from York in the fifteenth century!
And here’s the Minster watching over the city, watching Hebe and me setting off along the city walls to the train station.
A commitment to living simply implies a lifetime of marginal gains. But the aggregation is splendid.