stuff accumulation

This past week, a colleague (who I would have counted a tentative friend at the time — more on what-that-even-means later) and I had a disagreement involving differing philosophies of ownership and obligation. A fancy way of saying X wanted something Y owned but Y didn’t think lending X anything was obligatory. In the typical ironic fashion of our times, earlier in the week, we had had a short discussion in which X adamantly championed the sole ownership of one’s own body as an absolute. Guess this sentiment of indisputable ownership was forgotten by X in the heat of the moment when Y refused to share.

Not many know that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” was the runner up for most quoted verse of United States Declaration of Independence. There’s plenty of backstory which I won’t get into, but a late draft included “property,” not “pursuit of happiness”; in other words, one of the ultimate goals of a well-functioning representative form of government is to ensure the citizens’ right to property ownership.

Of course the US has no monopoly on stringent property law, but if there is one thing that this Great Experiment has instilled in us, is a fierce sense of propriety. And you don’t have to come from a long line of homesteaders to appreciate the economic capital of real estate. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not sure there’s an economist or libertarian alive who’d deny the fact that the wealth of the United States lies in her land.

Unfortunately, we also can’t deny the copious amount of blood spilled and lives destroyed in the name of greed and ownership of land.

What is — or was — somewhat unique to Americans is how fluid property is, how it passes from hand to hand, owner to owner, family to family. We’ve made it easy to exchange land, while in other cultures, selling the family real estate is a huge deal. It’s like selling one’s identity. I suppose they still openly acknowledge the strength of land ownership, while Americans tend to shrug at it. Then again, my mom’s side are very possessive of the family property. I’ve inherited land and feel strangely protective over it. I’ve even fantasized about buying the surrounding plots to consolidate. Mom and I used to talk about developing it somehow: a family retreat, an orchard, winery, hunting resort…

But all this talk of ownership is problematic on some levels.

I was reminded not long ago about how the civil Mosaic Law handled property rights and ownership, and what Yahweh might have been trying to teach the Israelites. Most striking about their tradition was the Year of Jubilee. Again, there’s a lot I can’t go into now, but essentially, any farm property leased or sold for debt payment was returned to the original steward. Not exactly debt forgiveness because, as this article so eloquently explains, through labor and trust and hope for the Sabbath Year, the debt had already been paid. PROFOUND.

And why say “steward”?

Well, just think about the difference between the earth and a human. One doesn’t have to be a theist to realize that, when you honestly think about it, the idea that a mere mammal who lives fewer than 90 years can “own” any part of this ancient world is ludicrous. Dust simply can’t own the dust from which it came and shall surely return. If anything, the earth owns us. It just so happens that being a theist, though, the dust from which I come has an owner, and He is just letting me handle it for a bit to see what I do with it.

So what’s the point?

Just yet another reminder and realization that cosmically speaking, I don’t own anything. Sure, in this culture, in this world, failing to own is a mistake, a shortcoming in need of correction with the accumulation of stuff. But as I look around at my cosy apartment that is, paradoxically, full of stuff for my convenience, I know that it is by the grace of Yahweh that I get to enjoy these comforts. But then I have to ask myself: how am I handling whatever property He lends me? How can I maximize the good that can come out of this property? I know I’m not. One way I know I’m not is because there’s stuff here at all. Stuff I don’t need, don’t even want, but here it sits. I also know I don’t maximize my property because I do constantly think of it as my property. And really, isn’t it? That was my money, after all, that I exchanged for it. No, not even that was mine. Well, gosh. Guess my body really is all that is mine and mine alone.

HA! Not even close.

So I also want to practice more letting go of the stuff. God isn’t enabling my comfort out of some sense of obligation to the poor mortal girl so that she knows He’s a good god. Just like the earth owes us nothing, neither does the deity. While I figure out how to divorce myself from the idea of ‘stuff accumulation,’ I do think it’s fair to develop a sense of stewardship and generosity of things even while feeling like I own them. (Gotta start somewhere!) I hesitate to even type this, but I think that I do give time/things when I’m made aware of the need more times than I fail to, but stepping up the game is always a better idea. I also think that generosity does not mean being foolish or sloppy in giving. Maybe I’m wrong, and I hope my heart is changed sooner than later if I am, but I don’t want to be the type of steward who throws money and quick fixes at a problem. Anyway, that’s a separate post.

The real question is, will Y ever let go and share??


Thanks for coming to this blog.

I’ve had many blogs, on and off, in the past, but this year I really want to do myself a favor and become serious about not just blogging, but publishing and contributing to the records of experiences and pools of knowledge in this world.

My plan is to update weekly. Please hold me to it.

In the meantime…

“Roku” means 6 and “hachi” means 8 in Japanese. Why Japanese? Why not?


He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 ~

advanced stages of fading

I didn’t know much about strokes, so I wasn’t sure how to process the news when my brother told me that mom had had one.

I knew it meant she probably had bleeding in her brain. I thought that maybe she’d have trouble communicating. It crossed my mind that maybe she wouldn’t know or remember me. I wanted to Google videos and websites about strokes, but only managed one or two brief readings and a long-ish clinical video before I flew from Saudi Arabia (KSA) to North Carolina to check on her. I arrived a little over a week after the event.

After an uneventful and pleasant transatlantic flight and once I logged into the spotty Charlotte-Douglas airport wi-fi, my brother and I managed to rendezvous so he could pick me up. He asked if I wanted to go straight to the hospital.

I’d never seen — or at least I don’t recall ever seeing — mom lying in a hospital bed, and I noticed how short she appeared. She’s an inch or two taller than me. She has chestnut skin, but it looked paler somehow. Maybe it was an illusion from all the white bandages and sticky residue on her face. My mom is a big lady, but she seemed flatter, almost deflated, and her position on the pillow didn’t look comfortable. Her hair was a straight up mess, having been shaved for surgery, and the color she loved was already in the advanced stages of fading. The first thing I wanted to do when I saw her was wipe the crust off her eyes and apply more petroleum jelly to her lips. I also made a mental note to fetch her nail polish when I went to the house.

People around me filled me in on details of her overall status. Despite the jet lag, as I do retreat into pragmatism, I appreciated this. But while I was mostly listening, I was also thinking about the aftermath…about the meaning of it all. What would it mean for her life from now on? What about mine? What would be required of us all? My thoughts felt entirely selfish and I remember almost not caring about anybody wanted to do or say after that. Aware of my proclivities, I just stood by her side, squeezing her hand, while voices pierced what would have been blessed silence.

Before I left Saudi Arabia, my director, after telling me to go home, asked how it was that I had delayed going to see my very ill mother in the first place. And she was very ill at that point. At first, once stabilized, she seemed okay; she was even awake. But then complications from seizures made her prognosis take a turn. The primary answer was that I was confident in the care she was receiving, and that confidence was reinforced when I saw how diligently the nurses at the Neurosciences ICU assessed and administered to mom.

My half-sister and her son were there already, but left after a while. They’d been spending almost every night in the ICU. My brother spent a few nights as well, and so had my uncle Henry. Having finally arrived, it was my turn.

The night was, unlike my flights, pretty eventful and not entirely pleasant. It is intensive care, after all, so no one gets any real rest. Not the nurses, not the visitor and certainly not the patient. That was my first revelation about the conflict between letting the body do what it does and our needing to participate. Satisfied, and beat, I think I only slept at the hospital one or two other nights after that.

Another gratifying revelation about mom was how many people wanted to know about her, and if possible, come to visit her. These were people I didn’t even know. It seemed like they were coming out of the woodwork. How blessed to be so loved.

Usually, I spent my time just sitting with mom, giving my siblings a break after the week they’d had attending to her through the rollercoaster stages. I listened to music, read the Bible, stared at her, yelled for her, pinched and squeezed her… I learned how to clear her breathing tube by the end of the trip and to not freak out when she started coughing violently. One of our “favorite” nurses told me that since the stroke happened in her left lobe, she may have looser inhibitions. Months later, when I try to have conversations on the phone and from the reports of my brother about her treatment of those around her, I see what he means.

Finally, she was cleared to go to intermediate care; one step down from ICU, but a step up from…standard care? We could tell the difference between the two wings, and immediately missed the nurses at NSICU and their hovering.

I left the States reluctantly, but with a sense of relief.

It was hard, and it still is. It’s pretty much the hardest thing I’ve ever faced or thought about. Moms are supposed to live forever, it seems. Even when my maternal grandmother died, it wasn’t real for hours…days. There was a lot I still didn’t understand or know when I left, and many of these unknowns will never be known. From what little I understand about strokes, and the organic nature of recovery, not much can ever be known about her future with any certitude. All of this mystery is frightening. I’m used to fear with a bit of thrill, but this is pure angst.

Something that dawned on me recently is the idea that after all we’ve been through together, all by ourselves, mother and daughter…She might forget. She’s already forgotten, and then remembered, things about me already, but this may just be the beginning.

She might forget that I’m alive. She might forget where I am. She might forget that I’m single, and if I ever do get married, she’ll forget that. She’ll forget that I became an FSO, when I finally do. She’ll forget, if I ever do, that I have a kid. She’ll forget that I’m safe. She’ll forget me. After all these years of being one of the apples of her eyes, after all these years of knowing me so damn well, of reading me like a book, she might ask “So who are you again?”

And that’s why it was a relief. It’s kind of a relief that I don’t have to see her struggle to form simple sentences. It’s a relief that if I so desired, I could not be reminded of her state. I don’t want to imagine her unable to walk and take care of herself. She’s taken such good care of me; how could she now need her children, or anybody, so much? I’m the one who should be asking for her wisdom and guidance and waiting for her “unsolicited advice.” She’s always been on top of things.

The tables have turned. It’s all wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

But then…

One time, on the phone, she said she was proud of me.

In one of her moments of clarity, she said she was happy and proud of me and wanted to see my smile.