Sunday, May 4, 2008

Who Owns My Stuff?

It's spring cleaning season, and once again, I'm reluctant to part with anything. To add to my guilt, a friend lent me the movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. He gave away everything--even his clothes--in the recognition that as God provides for the birds in the field, so God alone provides for us. This is a hard lesson to learn.

For my entire life, I have been grappling with packratism. I'm terrified that the second I give or throw something away, I will realize that I can't live without it, and I'll have to spend the rest of my life in a meaningless void, wrenched from the wisdom of my 3rd-grade math quizzes. When I write it out, it seems ridiculous to my mind, but my heart is still being squeezed as I picture my childhood flowing into a garbage dump, seagulls with demon eyes ripping it into nothingness.

Lately, I've begun to relinquish some of my hold on things, but it often starts in a well-meaning thought or feeling, and ends just before I convince myself to bring that bag of clothes to the Salvation Army. What if they come back in style?

So I was surprised during a conversation with another packrat, to find sensible words coming out of my mouth in support of letting things go.

Person: But I want to keep all of my books and newspapers.
Me: Why?
Person: Because they have important information in them.
Me: But you never read them.
Person: Well then, I'll just keep them safe.
Me: Why? Can't God keep them safe in the way God sees fit?
Person: But I am the khalifa (vicegerent/caretaker) of these things on Earth.
Me: What better caretaker is there than God?
Person: But they have been given to me to take care of.
Me: Everything given to us is a loan from God. We cannot own anything, and God is ultimately the guardian of all.

I felt like these words were coming through me, and I was talking to myself. Everything suddenly made sense. Do I really need to protect everything I come in contact with? What better protector is there than God? And if God's protection involves "my" things travelling somewhere else in the world and being used for some other purpose, then that is all in accordance with God's will. Why am I blocking the works?

Moreover, all of the knowledge and sustenance that I am trying to hoard is present in the world and will, God willing, be given to me as I need it. I do not need to be the donkey carrying a pile of books on his back who equates this with actually carrying the knowledge of the books in himself.

Now, I should be moderate in following my own advice. Unlike Saint Francis, I won't give away all my clothes. Food and knowledge and shelter can be found in things and can be quite useful to acquire in a limited way. I have to be careful, though, because these are the arguments that I have used before to keep all of my possessions.

The point is, it is not the end of the world if I give away old school papers or clothes, even if they do come back into style. God is taking care of these things and taking care of me, even if the things and me are separate. I see the demon seagulls that were squeezing my heart smile, relax, and fly up into the blue, floating on a God-given wind. Let me be like them.


Sohel said...

You are right. How many things you can do without seems to be the philosophy working behind. But keeping in a balance is the message from the Hadith. Have them not all given away but keep the bare minimum for you for the impending future. Stay in the middle, or better; spend 2.5% from your surplus! Good enough!

Megan said...

Katie- I am glad to have found your blog. I sometimes feel renewed when I am able to give things away- knowing they will have a new life where I wasn't using them.

Caminante said...

Salam Katie!
I think I'm going to have to stop by your house and take my and your clothes to Salvation Army :)

BTW, the movie is mine, so don't try to keep it!

On a (more serious) note... I felt a little weird reading this entry because some of the words you were writing seemed to be coming out of my own mind. I also hoard too much, and when I give things I get this huge feeling of insecurity because of the endless..."what ifs..."

But maybe instead of placing so much of my security on things, or on being fashionable, I should place it in God :(

Thanks for the lesson Katie.