I believe in offering, not suffering. I believe in paying it forward, not payback. Most of the debts we all owe to those who gave us life, including the Earth itself, cannot be repaid. Our mothers and fathers likewise could not repay their parents, their teachers, their elders—they could only continue the line by giving to us, their descendants and successors.
The creatures who gave us life—the chicken I had for dinner last week, the vegetables that made up a salad, the cows that made the cream in my coffee. I can’t give life back to them, but the components of my own body, built of all the food I ate and water I drank, that should and must be returned to the earth to nourish those who come after.
We have been given so many gifts! We give in return, whether we want to or not. We breathe out–and the green world breathes in. Every evening the trees slowly exhale, and our red blood has oxygen to carry. When we take our last breath, our bodies return to the Earth. Our best efforts to prevent this do no more than slow the process, taint the gift that we should freely give as we return to the cycles of life. I look forward to setting a handsome table, to some part of me seeing through compound eyes, becoming petals that open to the touch of the sun.
What will happen to the I, who writes these words now? I do not know, nor do I need to. I will not stand in this place again, but somebody will. I look each morning on proud vessels of steel and of wood. My work is part of their very fabric in layers of paint, well greased steel, canvas stretched across wood with copper tacks. As I sanded, scraped, pounded, if the gods are kind others will do the same. When they take apart my work, as I have taken apart the work of those who came before, will they say “that was well done,” will they notice the tiny wall and crown that ends my well-turned seizing?
A sailor’s signature very rarely carries a name, as the molecules of air that enter our lungs do not carry to us the knowledge of their journey. The crew, or the forest remains barring catastrophe, but the trees and sailors pass into memory. The ship remains only as long as there are people who care enough to do the work and do it well. Love holds the world together.