It is unlikely that most of us remember the baby outfit we wore after birth, or the blanket swaddled around us when we were taken home from the hospital for the first time. We were too young to understand our world and how important warmth, love, and protection were to our survival. Nevertheless, they were there, often in the form of our very first material possessions given to us by those who unconditionally loved us and took care of us. Soon, our belongings grew in number: a favorite binky, a teddy bear or a doll we snuggled with every night, clothes for various seasons and occasions, and toys to entertain us.
Before we were old enough to go to school, we learned the importance of our material world through what others had and we didn’t ... or the other way around. Children often fight over things they want, from a piece of sidewalk chalk to a tricycle. Sometimes, they even push their best friend to the ground just to get what they want for themselves.
During adulthood, we work hard to build our lives and take pride in what we own, whether it is the place we live, the clothes we wear, or the books we acquire to enrich our minds. Sometimes, we have to toil at two or three jobs just to be able to pay our rent and put food on our table so we can have a place called “home.”
When I was little, my mother often went to the pawn shop, trading her precious, most memorable possessions so that we could have clothes and food. “They are only things,” she said. She would give up anything to care for us during those hard times and through her I’ve learned to use material things wisely to build love.
Whether as children or grown-ups, we all learn personal responsibility through ownership, put- ting toys away after playtime when we’re four, and making mortgage payments on time when we are adults. Our enjoyment and success in life often depend upon the fulfillment of those duties.
It is also vital to know how much we really need in terms of material things so as not to get carried away by our desires, whims, or greed. If we don’t, our indulgence in acquiring stuff we neither need, nor are able to afford, will gradually turn our belongings from things enriching our lives to liabilities, weighing on ourselves and our finances. Our worldly possessions, in turn, will control and break us.
Like my mother used to say, “They are only things.” Make them serve you and not the other way around.
Reflections From the East Column
By Qin Stubis