You Can’t Take It with You

You can’t take it with you. So why do so many seem to try.

hay-truck

The ideas we develop of ownership are often formed at a very early age.  By the time I arrived in the world, my grandfather owned a small cattle and vegetable farm in the foothills of the Appalachians in Northwest Alabama.  He tended that place from sun up till sun down and it was a beehive of activity that all his children and grandchildren engaged in.  We all pitched in during planting and harvest and the hot job of baling and storing the hay for winter.  All us grandchildren also enjoyed the land  with it places to hike, explore, hunt and fish.  My grandfather “owned” the place and he called the shots.  The farm belonged to him,  and as far as my short term perspective was concerned, he had always owned it.

Then a strange thing happened to my perspective while I was in my early twenties…my grandfather died   and my father bought the farm.  Now my father owned it and he called the shots and the farm continued on being a place I loved and enjoyed.  As my father aged and all his sons either became too busy to help with the farm or moved away to pursue their new dreams, my father sold our farm to my uncle.  Though the farm was still in the family, I noticed my access became a bit more limited.  My uncle installed a new gate with a lock.  I was always welcome and could ask for and receive the key anytime I liked, but it was never quite the same or as comfortable as it had been when my grandfather or father owned it.   Mentally, this all made perfect sense, but emotionally, it was an adjustment for me.  There was a sadness to it…a loss…like the end of an era.

Eventually it dawned on me, that my grandfather had never really owned that farm, at least not in the way I had thought.  Of course, technically, the county records would indicate that he had been a previous owner, but in reality, he was only the caretaker of the place for a relatively short 30 years or so.  Before him, others occupied it and I know, from the flint arrow head tips I found, the plot I called our farm was occupied by native American Indians at one point.

The reality is that none of us owned this land.  Ownership is a illusion.  Our Native Americans ancestors understood this much better than our European ancestors who introduced private ownership of land to the Americas.  The Native American Indian had no concept of private ownership of land for the land belonged to the tribe and all were entitled to it’s fruit. And, in the event land was abandoned, it was there for the use of whoever was willing to cultivate it.

Few examples better illustrate this conceptual difference of land better than a speech given by Chief Seattle in response to an offer made by President Franklin Pierce to buy Indian Lands.

The great — and good, I believe — White Chief sends us word that he wants to buy land. But he will reserve us enough that we can live comfortably. This seems generous, since the red man no longer has rights he need respect….
So your offer seems fair, and I think my people will accept it and go to the reservation you offer them. We will live apart, and in peace…. It matters little where we pass the rest of our days. They are not many. The Indians’ night will be dark. No bright star shines on his horizons. The wind is sad. Fate hunts the red man down. Wherever he goes, he will hear the approaching steps of his destroyer, and prepare to die, like the wounded doe who hears the step of the hunter….
We will consider your offer. When we have decided, we will let you know. Should we accept, I here and now make this condition: we will never be denied to visit, at any time, the graves of our fathers and our friends.
Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every clearing and wood, is holy in the memory and experience of my people. Even those unspeaking stones along the shore are loud with events and memories in the life of my people. The ground beneath your feet responds more lovingly to our steps than yours, because it is the ashes of our grandfathers. Our bare feet know the kindred touch. The earth is rich with the lives of our kin.

Ownership is not only an illusion, it is also elusive.  I often think of something I once treasured, like my grandfathers pocket watch, or my old baseball glove, and wonder, “What happened to that.”

Did I lose it…was it stolen or borrowed or did someone throw it away not knowing its value to me.

I’ve concluded, It is all temporary here and the sooner I realize this in the deepest of ways, the sooner I will free myself of trying to possess things.  What is stylish and “in” today is soon “out of date” and disappears to make room for the new and improved.

A few years ago, I was spending my Saturday, mowing the lawn, washing my car, dusting my furniture …you get the idea.  Then the thought came to me…isn’t this stuff supposed to be serving me, why am I spending my day off serving all this stuff.  With this flash of insight I felt I understood Jesus words when he said, Man cannot serve two masters, for he will adore one and despise the other.  Man cannot serve both God and his own possessions.

That day was a turning point for me and I began to make small changes, first in my attitudes about possessions and later those attitudes began to surface in how I was living my life.  I had at least decided I was not going to spend as much time serving possessions.

Jesus is still radical to us today, especially in view of how He responded to the Rich Young Rulers question, “What shall I do that I might inherit eternal life?”  After the young man said he had kept all the commandments from his youth, Jesus told he still lacked one thing.  “Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”

I am still not quite yet ready to act so radically, but I beginning to see more and more the wisdom of His words.  At least I am on  the path to simplifying my life and am assigning less and less value to material things that one day will come up missing or will be an outdated gift and possibly and unintended burden to the next generation.

It takes an attitude of humility to accept the brevity of life and the temporary nature of material things, but ultimately, it grants more quality time to what is of real value.  Spending more quality time on what is of real value adds quality to your life experience and that increases satisfaction and happiness.

July 8, 2009

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