I remember camping in a particularly rocky area, with dry vegetation beneath our trailers and a tan, pebble-strewn dirt road next to us. I couldn’t tell you where this place was, or why my parents chose to camp there, but I do remember humps of dirt and hidden rocks threatening to trip my sister and I as we played.
My grandma took me on a walk down the road, which would have sent a tidal wave of dust over our campsite had a truck whizzed by. She corralled me close to the safe, weedy edge of the path, and because of this, I spotted the waterfall.
I made everyone stop. Fresh, clear water trickled over a small construction of jagged rock edges, pooling in a cricket-sized pond fringed with the only lush foliage I could see from where I stood.
There was something so charming, so picturesque, about this single, small thing that continued to live in this dead wasteland that my seven-year-old self wanted to take it home.
I know. It was a silly thought, and even then I was aware of that. But then again, I was the girl who built a paper bathtub in my closet because I wanted my own bathroom like the teenagers on Disney Channel. I was the girl who was so infatuated with the red flowers outside the White House that I took my mother’s fake flowers from Michael’s and ‘planted’ them in the carpet outside my bedroom.
I went to the waterfall and let the pitcher-like stream patter over my hand. The water was cold, selfish for keeping to itself when the parched surrounding land needed it desperately.
It was so beautiful, and I couldn’t take it with me.
I recalled this memory yesterday because I felt a similar yearning, and realized that this want–and the almost-shock that comes with not being able to have that which I desire–is not unfamiliar, I think, to any of us. And it made me reflect on the way third-world society has formed our ideals, affects our desires, and influences our reactions to that which doesn’t belong to us.
We are obsessed with ownership.
That water, those rocks, that scene…none of it belonged to me. In truth, none of that belongs to anyone. And yet, I’m sure that in a natural resources office somewhere, a paper with typed words and a couple signatures would prove me wrong.
Yep. It’s not uncommon in America that a piece of paper dictates possession.
I understand that the piece of paper is symbolic of given word, promises, agreements. But it’s also just equal to covetousness and financial status…more slips of paper that people kill over.
I walked away from that itty bitty waterfall, small hand flicking the last of the water from my skin, resolving that the closest to keeping it would be to draw what I had seen.
I find my appreciation of the waterfall endearing. I think that quality, the quality of falling in love with the most happenstance things, is what made me into a writer. Putting images into words, loving even the way letters curve and angle like bodies, is the closest I’ll get to everlasting.
Through words, I do own that waterfall. And now you do, too.
But even then…this is just more paper.
Paper is like a person. It can be stained, shaped, crumpled, flattened, shredded, marked, and changed by words, just like us. It is temporary. We are temporary.
I think in an ignorant way, ownership is the human manner of dealing with mortality. It is as if subconsciously, we are convinced that if we have more, we become more permanent. That by being satisfied with what we have on earth will make us, in all aspects, better.
In truth, we are not entitled. Everything you can see from where you’re sitting and beyond–the walls of your home, the multicolored cars in the lot, the land and the water, all that is material and all that is natural–are gifts. That which you buy is not really yours. That which you buy things with is not really yours. It is ours to use, but not ours to keep.
The next time someone breaches on my ‘property,’ whether on purpose or by accident, I’m choosing to let go and accept the fluctuation of life and its temporary belongings. Even the things and the people I hold dear will dissolve. And if I can learn how to find that perfect, rarely achieved balance that allows me to care deeply without claiming ownership, then I will become more like that waterfall I treasured so many years ago: fluid, wild, and tranquil.