A lot can go through a woman’s mind as she works to eliminate the smell of cat urine from the house she just bought. (Many of those thoughts include the word “disgusting,” but you REALLY don’t want to hear about that.) One thing that came to mind was “How could the previous owners leave a house like this?” Immediately thereafter, I thought, “Well, they were the owners,” followed quickly by, “But they didn’t own the house forever; they couldn’t. We all die someday.” Finally, I came to, “They didn’t think about that at all. This was their house, and they could do what they wished with it.”
I know that thought; I’ve had it. About the house I used to own. The books in my house. My writing. This is mine; I can do with it as I wish.
The thing is, though, that none of these things really are MINE, at least not in the sense that I can do whatever I want with them without consequence to other people. Anything I own will, eventually, belong to someone else, even if it’s in the form of trash in a landfill somewhere. Anything I write will for the public will, eventually, affect someone else, perhaps in just a tiny way. It is easy for me to forget this.
Wendell Berry writes so eloquently about farming, about the way we can preserve the land or ruin it for decades. His words remind me what a responsibility I have in this farm – to treat it well now so that it will help me fulfill my dreams but also to treat it well now so that when it passes into other hands they do not have to clean up my mistakes.
It is so easy for me to see myself as an island – despite my love for Donne’s amazing poem – to imagine that what I do, say, write, believe does not affect other people. But it does; it so very much does.
Today, I am revising the 9th chapter of my book. These pages discuss the stonework here on the plantation and the slave stonemasons who crafted the buildings that stand, solid and stalwart, over 200 years later. Their most obvious legacy is often claimed as “built” by the man who “owned” them.
The master believed he owned these human beings, and he treated them as such, using them to build his dreams and reach his goals with little or no thought to their own wishes. I am reminded, again, to be humble in my dreams and to remember the legacy with which they mark the world.
In 200 years, what do you want people to see as your legacy? I’d love to hear.
In case you were curious, hydrogen peroxide is a miracle worker in the world of cat urine. Take note.