I have decided that I don’t own anything.
I don’t even know how the subject came into my head. Maybe it was one too many attempts to control what goes on around me. I do that. Especially when I’m tired or scared; I shut things and people out and say “No!” because my equilibrium has gone missing and I want it back. Which is not in itself bad. When you’re not yourself, when you feel like you’ve been slammed by something or upset by something, when you’re worn out or stressed and need a moment, well then, take a moment. Injuries need healing and exhaustion needs rest.
But then I’m spending my moment on worrying about the things that I have no control over. My mind gets all full up of them and goes whizzing along at a hundred miles per hour. And I forget that the main thing is that I have no control over them.
And sometimes the thing I have no control over is myself. If my stamina is gone, I can’t just wish it back. And I certainly can’t change what I’ve already done. It’s gone, it’s over with, there’s nothing I can do about it. All that remains in my hands is to decide what to do from here.
And there I learn the first truth: I do not own the past, and I do not own my own bodily processes. The past informs me. It’s useful. I can learn from it. And while I can train my body and make it stronger, it still deserves to be fed and rested, and to have time to heal.
Funny. We never expect abstract concepts and inanimate objects to be able to tell us what to do. Yet they can. They do, all the time. And c’mon, it’s not like I invented time, or that it obeys me. And I didn’t ask for my body. I didn’t ask for or earn or choose any of my talents, let alone my physical traits. They may be mine by assignment, but I am neither their designer nor their maker.
But I have a lot of stuff. I have furniture, and books, and music, and this laptop, and all my clothes and plants and things. I earned them. I chose them. (Okay, some of them were gifts, but they’re in the minority.) A few of them, like the colored-pencil picture of a rose that hangs above a bookshelf, are my design. I created them.
But are they mine? They’re in my possession. I’m responsible for them. Yet they were not always mine, and neither will they be always mine. Some of the things I own will be destroyed. Some of them will be thrown out. Some will be given away. Some will be sold. And some will outlast me. Everything I have will pass out of my possession and belong to someone or something else. Get down to the molecular level and it’s even more fleeting. Every particle in my room has existed from the dawn of time, and each will go on existing until time ends. I have worked to bring them into my own orbit for this moment in my life, but it won’t last. It isn’t permanent.
Nothing is permanent. Nothing material, anyway. Everything will decay, or burn, or else become something different. While they are here and mine, I have a purpose for them. The things I own give me joy, or comfort, or enlightenment. I use them, to make my life or other people’s lives better.
Yet I can hardly say my life is my own. I didn’t ask for it. I can change it. I can direct it. But there are many things about it that I can’t do anything about. What is my purpose? What is my use? I own things to help myself; to what end?
If I believe, as a fair number of people do, that I am only here for myself, then the point is lost. I and all my pleasures are as fleeting as a note from my windchime: beautiful while it lasts and gone in two heartbeats. If I am the reason I own all these things, that they even exist, then the reason itself is a lie. But if I am not the ultimate reason or end, then I can hardly say I own what I have, because if I am ultimately not here for myself, then neither is anything I have. They may have their purpose in me, but my purpose is in something else. Ownership passes right through me and to the one who made me.
I own nothing, but I am the steward of everything that I have. Everything I have exists not merely for my good, but for that of everyone around me. It is mine to care for and enjoy, mine to help and edify me, mine to help me fulfill my purpose. If the things I have make me better, then they are good to have. If the things I have hold me back, then I should not have them. That was never my decision to make.
I hope I can cease to try making it.