Everywhere I look I see the human impulse to possess, to retain, to own exclusively. Children often display its most raw form. I vividly recall friends of my parents visiting our house when I was 7 or 8. Their youngest son, age 3 or so, sat in the corner of the family room desperately clutching an armful of my brother’s toy cars, hollering “Mine! Mine!!!” Through the rest of my childhood, we would call out this child’s name as a humorous way to let someone know they were being piggy about something.
We can even get possessive about items we cannot own, wishing (in vain) that we could be the “lone liker” of our favorite things. Recently my firstborn was heavily into a particular movie. When my youngest started listening to the music from this movie and eventually saw it, she became likewise entranced. Far from welcoming this shared obsession, the oldest reacted by telling her sister, in so many words, that she wasn’t allowed to share the “favorite-ness” of this movie. Despite the fact that millions of people all over the world probably love this movie, she wanted exclusive rights to adore it, at least in our household.
We copyright, patent, trademark, take, own, guard, defend. We create hashtags and apps and companies and catch phrases and stamp them with our names. We want to be the one who originates an idea, owns an approach, defines a concept.
We also want, at times, to possess people (whether they are alive or not). I have become more aware of this, both in others and in myself, since my brother died.
Frank was a keen example of how one person’s love and energy for others can mushroom indefinitely without seeming diminished or otherwise compromised. I have heard so many family members and friends talk about what he meant to them and how present he was in their lives, to the extent that you would think one person couldn’t possibly be all of these things to all of these people. But he was. I have to admit that sometimes I feel uncomfortably possessive, wanting him to be mostly my brother, more a part of my family and the family that he made with his wife than a part of anything else. His being gone, leaving such an unsatisfying level of Frank in my life, must be behind this impulse to possess him as much as I can. Although I know that what others retain of him cannot take away from what I have kept, sometimes I don’t want to share. Already I have nowhere near enough to fill the gap between what I have of him and what I thought I would have.
When I feel this way, I have to ask: How does this serve me? What do I gain from sitting in the corner clutching everything I can find having to do with my brother? My answer: It doesn’t serve me well at all, and I don’t gain anything, really. When we clutch piles of things close we are likely to obscure and hamper ourselves. I end up burdened with a pile of stuff, crashing through the floor into the basement like Myrna from The Electric Company, and it hurts.
Khalil Gibran’s words about children come to mind:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
I think this can be said of anyone we connect with in our lives – siblings, parents, spouses, friends. They are not our possessions, but they are with us. They are manifestations of Life, sharing energy with us, but not belonging to us. Ironically, the more I let go of feeling possessive of my brother, the more of him there is to go around. The more we share what we have, the more we have to share.
It seems the less I grip my people, my ideas, and my creations, the more good I can do with them. Freed up, they flow through the channel I’ve opened and head out where they might serve someone else. Then my job is to work to keep the channel open so that I can receive whatever raw material of learning might come my way next. It’s not an easy task, but I like it better than sitting paralyzed in a pile of debris in the basement.