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About a year ago I obtained a friend’s digital SLR camera on “permanent loan.” What’s permanent loan, you ask, and how’s that different from a gift? Also, doesn’t it bother you knowing someday your friend might ask for the camera back?


That artful spatter in the rightmost photo? It’s toothpaste.

I’ve thought these issues through. I’ve wondered, what does it really mean to borrow something without an end date? What happens if the item breaks while in my care? How does it feel to haul this camera around, always with the knowledge that it’s not really mine? If/when I get a new camera, I’ll give the borrowed one back, right (of course, by then it will be truly outdated, as is the way of modern electronics)?

Underlying these questions are my values: limiting my participation in the wastefulness of consumer culture (IMO, today’s digital point-and-shoots have too short a life expectancy), making good use of that which I already own or have access to, look to the wisdom and resources of my community to address my needs.

self portrait with Canon SLR

Even more underlying is the basic desire to connect. Have you ever loaned a book or CD (I’m dating myself!) to a friend in part because the act provides a sly opportunity to further cement that person in your life? Permanent loan is kind of like that, a line of connection and belonging attached at each end to a person. Like family heirlooms and the cotton shirt left behind by an ex or lost parent, borrowing and sharing can imbue items with significance beyond their actual purpose.

So while the newest camera in my fleet is a beautiful tool through which to view the world, it also symbolizes a friendship. Possessing it provides opportunity to play with uncertainty, and it reminds me of the numbers of “things” in my possession that belonged originally to others.

Know who else in my life is on permanent loan?

Jack cat captured by a knit headband

Jack Steiger: borrowed ten years and counting