A poem by Linda Rodriguez, titled Meditation on the Word Need, caused me to think about our use of the word. She begins the poem by observing that
The problem with words of emotion
is how easily meaning drains
from their fiddle-sweet sounds
and they become empty instruments
After talking about our use of the word “love,” she writes,
Need, now, is a plain word.
I need a nail to hang this picture.
I need money to pay my bills.
I need air and light,
water and food,
shelter from storm and sun and cold.
To be healthy,
to be sane,
I need you.
As her examples suggest, we use the word “need” to cover a range of things, some of which we assuredly do not really need. “I need a good, stiff drink right now,” says one, who is not expressing actual physical thirst. “I need a new pair of shoes, ” says another, who already owns at least five pair of shoes. “I need to get this kitchen painted,” says a third, meaning only that she is bored of the look of the existing paintjob.
If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we actually need very little of what we use that term in reference to. In fact, we only really need one thing. To quote the last line of St. Ignatius’ Suscipe, “Give me only your love and your grace, That is enough for me.” Or, as Joseph Tetlow paraphrases it, “Hold on me your life-giving gaze, and I neither need nor want anything else.” If we can remember that, we might be a little more conscious about how we use that word need….and be satisfied with a lot less than what we sometimes think we need.