Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Great Material Continuum

Among the Ferengi people of the Star Trek universe, there is a belief in the Great Material Continuum.  This represents the trade that they see as the force binding all life in the universe, the river that flows from those who have to those who need.  The Ferengi see the Continuum as an opportunity for profit, but I attempt to traverse the river on a nonprofit basis. 

I spend quite a bit of time redirecting and redistributing things, trying to find the right owner for each item.  As the coordinator of the annual Women's Studies Program Silent Auction at Montgomery College, I collect items (and services) from members of the college community.  These items are then auctioned at the Women's Studies Program Annual Breakfast to raise funds for student scholarships.  In some cases, the items donated are pieces of original art or services, but some items were gifts or other items that didn't quite fit the needs of the recipient.  I am always pleased when someone at the auction is genuinely excited to be able to acquire an item that would otherwise have been unused or discarded.  I feel as though I have shepherded the object along the Great Material Continuum to find a home with someone who truly wants or needs it. 

In my personal life, too, I am constantly navigating the river.  In the last few months, I've given away more than a hundred books, all of my vinyl records, and any number of household items.  Sometimes things stay with me a while before they find their rightful home; indeed, at times I think all of my goods are just visiting with me until they move on to the next stop on the Great Material Continuum.  I am merely serving as a caretaker and guide for the items to find their next home along the Continuum.

Why do I spend so much time and effort traversing the river?  It makes good environmental sense to reuse existing items rather than throwing them away, as it helps reduce landfills and requires fewer resources than continually buying new items.  It helps to clear out space in my home, which has a tendency to become cluttered and overfull at times.  Looking through what I have provides me the opportunity to reflect on my needs and goals, as I consider each item and whether it continues to serve a purpose in my life.  Giving away items also helps assuage the guilt I feel for my consumerist tendencies.  My house is full of wonderful things, yet even so I occasionally feel the clarion call of more stuff -- more books to read, more beads to enrich my collection, more art to delight the eye.  It's hard to avoid the guilt of my own good fortune, knowing that I have so much and others live in conditions of desperate poverty.  By giving things away, I can try to "pay it forward" and share with others the bounty I have enjoyed.  It's a great feeling to give things away to people who genuinely want them.  It feels satisfying.  It feels right.

So I follow the Great Material Continuum.  There are many resources to facilitate travel along the river.  My journey has been aided by my local Freecycle list, as well as Facebook.  I can post an offer to give away a wall cabinet or books or storage boxes or partially used cans of paint, and the person who needs just that item comes forward to claim it. Craigslist, too, has a "free" section for giving away items.  My workplace has several "free stuff" tables, where people bring items to give away and leave them for others to take; some neighborhoods have similar systems for leaving items curbside or at local community centers.  (When I lived in Philadelphia, free furniture left on the curb was taken within hours.)  If you don't want to personally shepherd items to their next home on the Continuum, there are, of course, many charitable organizations that are happy to take your items.  

At some level, I think every item is endowed with purpose; goods exist to be used and enjoyed.  The Great Material Continuum tells us that there is a place for each item, a person who wants or needs just that item and would allow it to serve a purpose.  We just need to help the river carry the items to their rightful place.  The work we do honors the goods we have and those who labor to provide those goods. 

"From have to want and back again."  It's not a bad way to live.

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