When you stop and consider it, don’t you think its rather ridiculous to suggest that a human being can own a piece of the earth? Or to be a bit more accurate, temporarily own a section of the earth’s crust?
I’ve added the word ‘temporary’ there as, of course, that’s just what it is. A better word is transient. We don’t live for ever. The earth isn’t a permanent feature of the universe. And perhaps the universe itself may, at some point, pack up and call it a day.
This line of talk, though, seems to make people uncomfortable. Most people don’t really like to dwell on the transient nature of their own existence. Or of the things that they have worked hard (usually) to obtain: houses, cars, savings, etc. But the truth is these things don’t really belong to us. The word ‘mortgage’ itself is quite useful at reminding us of this fact. Mort- comes from the French/Latin word for death; and -gage is an archaic word for pledge or stake. So quite simply, the house has been pledged to you until your death.
It’s seems like this vital (if bitter to swallow) area of our knowledge has been pushed so far to the back of our minds that it’s fallen in with denial – a somewhat deceitful ability that most people don’t even realise they are using. But it’s so very powerful! We, certainly in western societies, employ it every day in order to get on with our lives. When we hear about atrocities occurring in other parts of the world, denial quickly switches on. I remember sitting with someone at work a few months ago and we caught the end of a news bulletin on the radio, reporting how a school bus had run off the road into a deep gully, killing all 40+ children on board. We both stopped what we were doing until the report had finished, listening to hear where it had taken place. But what difference did geography make? Or, are some children’s lives worth more than others? When the reporter stated it had happened in Nigeria, my colleague audibly sighed with relief.
The only way we can own anything is in a transient state. Once we understand this, it isn’t nearly as scary as you might think. In fact, it’s very liberating! I recently had a car accident and broke a few bones. The paramedics sped me to hospital and I spent a night on ICU before being moved to an orthopaedic ward. Although I’m now fine, these kind of events get you thinking about how the situation could have been worse… And what that might have meant.
Your clothes are cut from you and discarded like the skin of some battered fruit. The car is a crumpled bit of tin, an old can abandoned by the side of the road. People you’ve never met before begin their routine practice of, not wanting to be too dramatic, saving your life. There’s nothing you can do to assist except remain compliant: “Take a deep breath… Wriggle your toes… Open your eyes… Lift your legs…” Since there is little to do, your thoughts naturally focus on what has happened to you and then to the people it’s going to affect: my kids and partner, parents and friends… I didn’t spend too long worrying about the car.
Something that forces us to face these sort of considerations has a useful component too. It strips away the husk and the pith surrounding us, stuff we had come to think of as part of what we are: possessions; money; debt; job. It leaves us bare, so that only the real and essential elements remain: life; family; friends… people.
Unfortunately, this feeling subsides as we recover and ‘normalise’. I would guess that the vast majority of post-trauma people return to an extremely close version of the person they were before the accident. But they will be different. The breadth of this difference will vary on the severity of the trauma and the person involved. I’d like to suggest that, assuming a full physical recovery, the more it changes you, the better.
Yes, it’s nice to have things (I’m not immune from this nor a whole host of other failings): Cars, stereos, coffee makers, microwaves, flat screen TVs (by the way, do you remember when you didn’t change your TV every five or so years? The telly I always remember from my parents house had a doily and ornaments on the top and was treated like a piece of the furniture), DVD players, iPads, wardrobes stuffed with never worn clothes (the list goes on and on). These things can offer you something practical which my help you minimally in life, but mainly these are things that symbolise our ‘success’. For example, a 20 year old car with dented and corroded body work but an excellent engine may only appeal to people who understand ‘green’ issues, or perhaps a collector of cars. It would offer the same practicality as a new car in many respects, but it wouldn’t display what we believe to be our status, so at some point the practical aspects are overtaken by the more superficial need to show off.
There’s little surprise that this is the case. I could talk to someone about this until I am blue in the face (and have!) but there is little chance that I can compete with the 24 hours a day omnipotent influences that exist in our society. These influences range from advertising and marketing, to the car parked on your neighbour’s drive. And what is more, these influences have been with us from the first day of our lives. It is an aspect of us I’d like to call inherited social knowledge. There are many more of these aspects that we take for granted or indeed assume have always been the same: democracy; the financial system; private property; money; fields full of sheep and cows (mainly sheep!); our lack of spirituality; political parties; war; famine; global poverty; oil; education; public health and many, many more. Systems we are born in to.
What something like an accident does is allow you to poke your head out above the canopy of your life. A better description might be to rent a tear in the thin veil that spreads itself out over society and breath in the truth.
I wouldn’t like everyone to have to go through the fear and pain that associates itself with a crash like mine, though. If you take any of this on board then hopefully you won’t need to. I’m asking you to look at your own life, hopefully from a platform of health, and ask yourself what is important to you? Is it people, community, solidarity, health, freedom, our children, education and knowing honestly what it is to be you, a human being? Or is it just the stuff we gather around us, so that we have to build higher fences to protect it?