Some years ago (maybe 10 or so), my mom gave me this book. I've never opened it. For some reason, for my birthday that year, I got a bunch of stuff with my name on it as a joke. I've kept this gem, and it's been to California and back with me. After spending lots of time in a bin full of keepsakes, it's been on a shelf in Lindley's room for a few months.
And tonight, I'll open it for the first time. This is an event a decade in the making. I'll read the book to her and she'll learn as much as she can about Firefighter Sam and his friend. It belongs to her now.
Yes, it's just a book, but I think it's indicative of an unspoken social contract we as humans are a part of. This is why I work on causes related to the environment and justice. It's why I want a better world: it's ultimately not mine. It's hers.
This Native American Proverb sums it up best:
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
You can swap the word earth for lots of other stuff, but the point is this: everything you think you own isn't yours. Whether your kids toss out your Pez collection after you die or they count the dollars now in their name generated by the fruit of your labor, you can try to accumulate as much as you want. But if you're not prepared to relinquish it all and pass it on, you may find that your own desire to possess in the end possesses you.
And you don't have to be a parent to realize this. The work you do, the time you spend, the dreams you have - those all belong to some future generation who will one day live in your city, work in your company, and play in your parks.
One day, someone else will have your job.
Someone else will own your car, live in your apartment, and run your church. They will wear your clothes, watch your movies, and read your books. They will swim in that same ocean, climb that same mountain, and marvel at a very similar sunset. Viewing our lives, work, and legacy in light of the future that comes after us may have us reprioritizing why it is we work.
We don't work to own stuff. We work to give stuff.