Owning It (or Not)
Perhaps because I live in Southern California and feel the constant threat of fires, earthquakes, tsunami-floods, and theft, I have ambivalence about most of my possessions. When a friend dropped a large glass serving bowl while she was helping in my kitchen, I didn’t bat an eyelash. When an acquaintance needed to borrow a car for an evening, I handed him my keys without giving it much thought. I do the same with books, clothing, gear, etc. In my mind, if someone else has the need of my stuff, it makes so much sense to share it with them. For example, I loaned our tire chains to a complete stranger awhile ago and never got them back and I really don’t care–I imagine that he’s getting good use of them and they were just dead weight in my trunk (I rarely drive in snow). I also have this larger sense of none of my “things” really being mine–sure they are in my house and I paid for them, but sharing them with others only makes the having of the stuff more meaningful to me. Even at the risk of losing some of what I share.
It is, perhaps, the unique circumstances of my life that leave me feeling that I don’t own my body, either. Sure, I can keep it healthy and care for it. But having lost my leg to cancer at a young age taught me that even our bodies are not ours. There are circumstances in which we lose control of them and of their functions. We can, of course, keep free of physical addictions and do all we can to maintain health. But that can be taken from us at any instant.
I don’t have a sense of owning the people in my family, either. Although I think I used to feel that way. Perhaps the biggest lesson of my early marriage years was realizing that my spouse owns himself and it is not my role to control or micromanage his behavior. Sure, I can depend on him, invest emotionally in him, and feel secure in our relationship. But I don’t own him. And the same goes for my children, too. I teach them and guide them, but they are not “mine”–their decisions and choices are theirs alone.
I could say that I own a certain sum of money that sits in my bank and in my retirement account. But even that, to me, seems subject to the happenings of the economy and the solvency of institutions that are out of my control. I do my best to be responsible for my life, but larger forces could easily render my life savings, my food storage, and/or my employability negligible.
So what do I own? For the most part, I own my actions, my beliefs, and my choices. I usually also own the consequences of my behavior. I own my memories (for now, but might not always due to old-age or injury). I own this moment in that I am choosing to sit here at this keyboard and in sharing my thoughts with you rather than doing something else. But I don’t own all of my time–much of it is dictated by my work and family circumstances.
Do you ever think about what you own? Do you ever struggle with the desires to own your self, your family, or your life?
Photo by John Remy, taken earlier this week in the Newport Back Bay