Many, many years ago, when I was an adolescent, my father gave me the ring he received when he completed the 8th grade. He went no further; economics on a family level made going to work what he needed to do.
I cherished the ring as I cherished very few things. Some years later, trying to recover from a disastrous academic failure in my first two years of college, I joined the army on a two year tour.
I was sent to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to work as an attendant on the psychiatric ward of the Army Hospital. I took the late night shift, which gave me my day time hours off, to wander, and to go to the beach.
Sorting out what kind of a “me” I was going to be, and whether or not I had much control over that process was a major mental preoccupation. The army was in charge of me and given the situation that I found myself in, that seemed to be fine, and certainly better than I had been doing at that job.
It didn’t occur to me that wearing my ring into the ocean didn’t make sense. Not until I returned to the beach did I notice it was gone. In its place was a self-inflicted wound so deep that it forced me into a brief despair.
That early encounter with loss was so specific and so particular that it triggered a profound reconstruction of what I thought I believed about a whole lot of things. The first idea to crumble was the idea of ownership.
Here is the puzzle I was trying to solve. If something is mine, if I own it, then how can it be gone before I decide to get rid of it? If I can lose it, or it can be taken from me in any way, than what is the difference between owning and renting or borrowing?
Paying for it is meaningless. I pay for my food and we all know what happens to that. I pay for a ticket to a movie, or boat trip, and yes, the experience goes into my memory bank, but to say I own that memory makes no sense. Do I own my memory cells? Do I own my body fed by the food I cook, and the food of experience? If I own a house, do I own it after I die?
Day dawns and night yawns. I live in both, but I own neither, nor do I own the map of that day nor the map of my nighttime dreams.
Ownership is an illusion. That’s what I came to understand. And out of that understanding emerged a desire, and a need to write.