Owning Things

Owning Things July 23, 2012

Yesterday I wrote about owning things, and some of my readers were displeased with the idea of “owning” being something good in a spiritual context. My post yesterday was not great, and some readers mistook my unpolished stream-of-consciousness scribble for panic. I am far from panicked. I do not believe that the sky is falling on our heads. I am trying to see us and our place in the world clearly, free of projection and illusion.

I have reached a point in my life where I don’t own anything beyond some books, clothes, a few sticks of furniture and a little bit of cheap tech. I no longer own anything of substance. I do not own a car. I do not own land. I don’t even own a musical instrument, as the mandolin I bought with a tax return years ago ended up being exchanged for money for food and bills. What my father left me when he died was sold by someone else, and I don’t know that I ever benefited from the sale. I don’t own anything. My belongings could all very likely fit in a large pickup truck.

I have streamlined my life over and over again. I have purged my clothing, books and furniture several times, and not always by choice. I have given things away. I have had them taken from me. I have lost things through stupid thoughtlessness on my part. The truck my father taught me to drive was taken from me by a careless driver who owned a much nicer vehicle. The insurance company didn’t give me enough money to replace it. I learned the hard way that what something is worth and what it will cost you to replace it are sometimes two very different figures. I left for work one morning in no particular hurry only to find that when I arrived the fire department had been dispatched to my house because it was belching smoke. I came home from work one day to find my husband had taken the computer, his books and his clothing and left me with the dishes and secondhand furniture. I had a job I was excellent at taken from me piece by piece in a scary merger over several months until being fired was a blessed relief. I’ve lost things I’ve owned.

I have a well-worn Scofield KJV Study Bible that I have spent hours of my youth pouring over. I had a remarkable grasp of scripture, church history and Evangelical thought once. I owned my faith. I didn’t merely inhabit it or acknowledge it or visit it on Sunday. I had mastery and understanding. I owned my faith. I lost that, too.

In this economy, people are losing their homes, their cars, their jobs. They are losing the ability to support their children. People who had a good grasp on their life, who owned property and believed they had security saw all that crumble when the bank they worked for collapsed like a sad circus tent. People who owned tickets to the hottest movie in town lost their lives a few days ago. There is a lot of loss in the world right now.

Migrant children in California. March 1935. Photo by Dorothea Lange.

My grandparents grew up during the Depression of the 30’s. During rations and unemployment and people losing their family farms. They saw young men of their generation leave to fight in WWII only to be lost overseas and far from home. To say it made an impression on them is an understatement. My father took me to see Eddy Arnold perform once. He was a country music troubadour, and he must of been in his late 70’s when I saw him in concert. On the way to the show my told a story of Arnold packing up everything his family owned when he was a child and sitting on the back of the truck as the family drove away from the farm they had lost in the Great Depression. It affected him so profoundly that when he was the hottest act in country music his agent would have to coax him to buy a car, because Arnold was determined to save as much as possible to ensure his kids never lost their home. That story may not be true, but my dad told it to me, and I remember it.

When I was a small child my parents owned a few acres and a house. It wasn’t fancy but it was home. I had such a profound sense of security and identity because of that. There was a wide-world out there full of scary things, but this place was ours and I was safe there. I could play in our yard without some kid coming along to take away my ball. I could pick flowers, play in the dirt or sit on the steps slurping on a sweet tea popsicle. There were a lot of things I lost as a little kid: my favorite grandmother to cancer, my education, my trust in my parents, contact with my sisters, my grandfather and cousins to a feud, several pets, my first church family and my innocence of open-heart surgery. But we had that house. My small world had a firm foundation and boundaries. Then dad sold the house and moved. I still dream about those tree in our yard. We moved a few times and my parents looked at a lot of houses, but they didn’t expect my dad to die so young before getting settled. I never felt safe after we left that first house. What little security I had was gone.

I have tried my entire life to take ownership of my own soul. I tried desperately to own the role of wife a couple of times, but I lost that because the men involved didn’t want to own the role of husband. I’ve done a decent job of owning my sanity through the years, even thought it did get repossessed once or twice. One of those times long ago I tried to own my death, and thankfully failed. I have many faults and flaws I try to own, but do not always succeed. I have past full of women’s shelters, poverty and really stupid lonely decisions that I sometimes wish I could escape rather than own, but I try to own it even when it hurts.

There is no transit where I live, so to survive I need to own a car again. It is my dearest wish to own a small piece of land with a small house on it that belongs to me and no one else. I’d like to own the role of wife again, and if I can pull that off successfully for a couple of years, I’d like to try to own the role of mother as well. I’d like to work on owning my better nature, even if I never have a clear title to it. I’d like to own enough to give any children I might have, or my nieces and nephews, more than was given to me. Not just material goods, but other things I own: love, joy, wisdom, patience, perseverance.

Owning something, and more than that being able to name it, is a profound thing. Magic workers know this. Your ritual blade is useless if it is not unequivocally yours. Being able to own something gives you a sense of security and wellbeing, even if the only thing you own is a warm winter blanket. At least then you know you won’t freeze.

There is a profound joy in being able to share something. Humanity needs company and love needs to be given freely rather than hoarded. But you can’t share everything. You have to keep something for yourself to stay sane. Maybe it is your diary, your spirituality, your intimacy with your partner, or your solo commute to work. We all have something we own, and we cherish being able to depend on it. If we are lucky it is a house to shelter those we love or a respite from the stress of the world. It is something solid, a sanctuary in a storm. It gives us identity, form, purpose.

So when I talk about Paganism and other indigenous religions owning polytheism, this is here I am coming from. In a world where loss is an every day occurrence, it is nice to know we own this one thing. This one thing we don’t have to share or feel marginalized within. Polytheism is ours. It is our house. We are busy painting the trim and sanding the floors. When non-polytheists walk in, they are the guests. They are the other. We are the ones with the authority to invite people to spend the night, or to insist someone leaves before we call the cops. This is where we can feel safe, sound and secure.

It is a small thing, and to many people it may seem silly, but it is important. You need to have at least one thing you can own that can’t be taken from you. For Pagans, I believe that polytheism is that one thing.

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