Sitting alone on a porch that I do not own, in a chair that belongs to someone else, I imagine someone who walks the streets at night sitting here to sleep after the lights are turned off from inside the house that is not theirs. I hope they do.
As I finish my now cool coffee in a mug that is owned by another person the cool damp September morning feels graceful on my arms. I had brought a book (that I was given a receipt for) out thinking I might read as is my morning habit, but the trees owned me so the book remained only a coaster for the mug.
I was mesmerized by the trees here on Steele’s Hill. It was once a forested hill where the descendants of the first people once found food and watched newcomers move in. Those original walkers of these woods did not own any of the hill that they likely called by some other name. The new people quickly claimed to possess the Earth and its trees and so now I sit on a white painted porch legally claimed by a friend, in their cushioned seats possessed by the color.
I was awed by the breathtaking power of the color green. Variations must number in the trillions when we consider how the color appears to us in the fog and changes with bits of sunlight filtered through clouds and again when the sun blasts its midday light. Green is the color of life and on this morning it seems that life is sustained entirely by the diversity of color which, in turn, refers to the diversity of life; a reminder that monocultures are fatal no matter where they are imposed.
And that circles right back to ownership. Monoculture is a waste product of ownership. When we own something we are excluding others from our lives and isolating ourselves from our community, severly reducing diversity in our lives. How many changes over the last two centuries have we been told are in our best interest, but in fact are more in the interests of those selling the ideas of modernity and productivity? A washing machine for every individual means we no longer gather with a community each week. A dryer inside our houses mean we no longer smile or chat with at the next door neighbors as we hang our wash to dry. A car for every person means we no longer work near our homes and we no longer walk and notice and acknowledge each other.
These “improvements” in our lives have only improved– I would argue that is a lie as well– the lives of manufacturers while the qualities of life that bring us joy and connection to each other have diminished. Our health has grown worse as we have grown fearful of being outside on our streets and our bodies forget how to breath deeply and our vascular systems become stuck and stagnate. Our mental health suffers for the lack of human contact and the minimal exposure to natural light.
Our spiritual health breaks down as well without the joy and connection and the colors of the living world. When we lose that sense of awe of the trillions of colors swaddling us as only the Earth can, we lose a crucial experience that makes us human. Whether we ascribe this to a single deity’s benevolence, a creator’s gift, or to the power of some other unknowable force, the grace and blessings of the trees’ existence nourishes and calms us. If we sit with them long enough we understand how small we are and how we are part of all other living things on the planet.
We own nothing. We are part of everything. It has taken time for me to come to this understanding- that you and I are not valuable to the world because we possess a car a house, a bank account of any size. We are only valuable to the world when we fully understand that we are elements of a massive, complex system of life. Not just a web, but something profoundly deeper that causes pain in our heart when someone is frostbitten walking the streets in winter, when a species disappears, when someone is refused income because they went to jail, when someone across town is sick because they couldn’t afford decent food, when trees die. We are not what we own. Our caring is who we are.