Friday, June 15, 2007

When "My" Is No Longer Possessive

Some words take on new definitions when you live in community. Living in close communion with people gives an entirely new perspective to words like brotherly kindness, service, and patience. But it's not only these big words that encounter new meanings when theory demands practice; it's the small words too. Particularly, I have been aware of how the words my and mine mean something completely different in a home with nine other people than they did in my apartment in graduate school.

When I lived alone, my purple brush and yellow scissors stayed exactly where I left them while I was at work and my purple brush and yellow scissors were waiting for me when I returned and needed them again. My computer stayed off; my printer paper did not migrate to another printer; my rug did not get tracked on; my clothes and shoes did not get worn by my sisters; my camera did not get swung around by other people; my books did not get read by other people when I wanted to read them; my CDs did not end up outside and my food was not eaten by other people. Basically, mine meant that whatever object I owned was owned by me for my pleasure.

But now, at home, I have found that when I walk around for five minutes in the morning and ask for someone to please give me a clue as to the whereabouts of my purple hairbrush, what I am really asking is not for my purple hairbrush but for the hairbrush that my sisters have jointly claimed as ours. In fact, I think that most things that I used to think of us being owned in the singular are now owned in the plural. My nailclippers, my car, my books, my envelopes - all the pieces of matter that I had somehow figured were mine because I spent money to buy them - have now become ours.

And it is infinitely better that way. What used to bring pleasure simply to me, now brings pleasure to nine other people. Ours is a vastly preferable meaning to the possesive than mine. Ours conveys a purpose in living this life that reaches somehow beyond the self and into an eternal communion of happiness for all.

Pope John Paul II said that the purpose of this life is to give ourselves away in love. When my possessions, as an extension of myself, are no longer mine but ours, there is opportunity to encounter a deeper meaning to the life's journey, as we give ourselves and our possessions away in love.

And lest I make myself out to be unfairly altruistic, another joy of the plural possessive is that I have access to the people and the possessions that were before outside of me and not owned by me. I can now find enjoyment in Becca's comfy bean chair and Luke's circular saw because they have opened their lives to mine as part of an understanding of community.