Not much of a churchgoer, but I have embraced some of the aspirational ideas I’ve heard there. In one church many years ago, I heard a sermon about stewardship that stuck with me. In my very skeptical youth, I listened open-heartedly, then surmised that what the speaker was really saying was the familiar phrase, “give me money.” I understand that like any institution, this one needed support to accomplish the many important good works that it had hopes for. Asking is not always greed, and giving is not to be avoided, but still, it felt a little like that old time flimflam.
What is our obligation to each other? Those who have what they need are especially required to think about it. I have more than I need. I provide for my family, I donate to causes I care about; criminy, I have a boat! And I have my home here in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.
I’ve had other houses. I’ve even been proud of them, used them with care, improved them and passed them on. This one is different. I’m keeping this one as long as I can stand, maybe longer. This place feels like a dream, an extension of the me I hoped to be. I want to weed the lawn, and plant the trees and flowers. I want to clean the windows so I can see my unbelievable surroundings. I want to be here.
So, is it stewardship? Is taking care of my home generous? Am I contributing to a greater good? Sure, my neighbors are glad they don’t have to look at a mess, and their property values are safer. When we have guests, they smile and want to come back. Sharing happiness is giving. But if I see my home as an extension of myself, isn’t all this work just another vanity?
My neighbor pointed out to me that in fact all my writings for this lovely newspaper have been about perspective, and this one is no different. The idea that makes me proud of my pride is that my home is connected to a longer story. The perspective I’ll offer this month is about time. It’s not all about me except that I’m a small part of a changing world and I want to be aligned with it.
Our land is more dynamic than anywhere else I’ve lived. We can see the coast drifting, molding itself to an equilibrium far in the future. The cliffs erode and the clay flows into the bays, the alders fall and the cedars climb, the seasons come and go, the tide washes all. The Olympics are still rising above the Juan de Fuca plate offshore, even as they slide down to the Sound in rain and snowmelt.
I have an old seawall, 1970s concrete and rebar. I’m sure it was built for 1,000 years with a ton of money by a strong-willed man. Maybe he thought it was good stewardship, protecting his own against the forces of destruction. It’s falling apart, as it should. Fifty years is nothing for our determined land.
I think about his folly, and many other well-intentioned efforts around me. And about my own ideas of “doing good work.” We take stuff to the food bank, buy as local as we can, fill our recycling container dutifully, drive sensibly, smile at our neighbors. That’s stewardship, right?
No, not nearly. At least it leaves me unsatisfied. Tomorrow, next week, this life — all way too immediate for my contentment. I think humans have been the biggest single force of destruction in the history of our world. I do think it’s our nature and changing our nature is hard, maybe even as silly as that concrete sea wall. Maybe all we can do is the immediate stuff; every day take one step in what seems like the right direction. Maybe we can do big things. We have done them. We mostly quit smoking, we mostly try to understand what’s going on beyond the Key Pen, we want to be part of something that matters.
So first, what matters? I guess that’s a pretty personal question that I hope you all struggle with, and I wish you well with it.
Then, how do we help? Maybe click on the “donate now” button, teach your children to be good citizens, or join a crew to clean up the highway. (How do people decide to throw their junk from their cars? Do they hate us? Themselves?) Should I build another seawall? Still feels a little short-term to me. Maybe join a church, share your beliefs and build together with them.
The Second Coming is certainly a long view of things, I bet very comforting (or maybe terrifying) for those who have that faith. For the rest of us, real meaning that has endurance is tricky, and maybe vital. I’m old enough to think I might never understand stewardship, but hope is a big part of it, I’m sure. I hope you all do understand stewardship, or still try to.
Jack Dunne lives gratefully in Lakebay.
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