Despite some opinions to the contrary by the doggedly non-religious, the ten commandments are actually still a pretty good set of rules to live life by. I like to think they would be my innately known moral rules, regardless of religious upbringing. Stripped of Judeo-Christian trappings, they boil down to these simple life guidelines:
1. You can’t worship more than one thing.
2. Be careful what you say.
3. Take a break sometimes to focus on what’s important.
4. Be nice to your parents.
5. Don’t kill anyone.
6. Don’t cheat on anyone.
7. Don’t steal.
8. Tell the truth.
9. Try to be happy with what you have.
Yeah, there are actually only nine. Or 13. Depends on who you ask. The scriptures remain the same, but different groups divide them up differently in order to get that magical number 10. Check it out.
So there they are, the 9-13 commandments, all of them good tools for daily living. Except it seems they forgot one of the most important ones! Thou shalt not break! Why is respect for people’s stuff not included on the list! We’re not supposed to steal their stuff, and we aren’t supposed to want their stuff, but what about if we break their stuff?! Isn’t that as bad, if not worse?
Look, I know I have an unhealthy attachment to stuff. For one, I am American, so that almost guarantees it. But I also, after many deep conversations with my brain, have figured out that, because we moved so much when I was kid (pretty much every year), stuff became my home and my comfort. My room wasn’t a structure or a place, my room was my posters and my toys. If a room had my bed, and my desk, and my Thundercats, then it was my room. And so I began a lifetime of packrat living, unable to get rid of anything, because everything I owned was a living piece of me.
Some of my most traumatic childhood memories are from when someone broke something of mine. I can still vividly recall specific instances in great detail, of the anger and sadness and betrayal I felt when one of my toys was broken. I am very sorry to report that this feeling has not gone away. Yes, I am able to (somewhat, partially) hide my rage when a friend damages something of mine these days, but it still cuts me deeper than I am comfortable admitting. And now I am transferring that to my children.
Every time I scream at my children instead of calmly correcting them, I feel like a failure as a parent. And almost every time I lose it and scream at my children, it is because they have broken something. And they have broken something all the freaking time! My poor children. They are learning from me just how important stuff is. They are learning a bad lesson. I can already see them both starting to freak out when they think something of theirs might possible be in danger of getting broken.
But wait, stuff is important, right? At least in our society. You break it, you bought it, right? Every time we walk through a parking lot and Edward runs his hands along the line of cars, I cringe and I snap at him. I can just imagine what would happen if he damaged someone’s car. People get a little crazy about their cars. I don’t want to get sued. When we are at other people’s houses and something inevitably gets broken, I die a little inside. I know how upset I would be if someone came to our house and broke something. Surely everyone else feels the same way. Stuff is important. Yes, stuff’s important. Yes, stuff’s important; the media tells me so.
So why isn’t it a commandment? Maybe it is kind of already covered under “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” Breaking someone’s thing is like robbing them of it, right? They might have to buy a new one, just like if it was stolen. Of course if you steal something, you can give it back. If you rip up someone’s special American Girl catalog, it’s gone to the big recycling bin in the sky forever. So breaking is worse than stealing? Or is it just all unimportant stuff? Honestly, I don’t know anymore. I just wish I didn’t have such an emotional attachment to it all, and I wish that Edward would stop breaking everything.
Two days ago I bought Edward a new radio-controlled car, and yesterday he left it in the middle of the kitchen floor under a paper towel. Last night I stepped on it and broke it. He was furious at me, and I was furious at him. Neither of us, in the other one’s mind, had respected the toy. And now we were finding it hard to respect each other. Maybe the solution is to just have less stuff, and a healthy respect for the stuff we do have. In this disposable, consumable, stuffed up world that we live in, my greatest prayer is that I never choose the things over the people, and that I view respect for stuff as an extension of a respect for the person to whom it belongs. I expect I’ll get there someday.