The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) preaches the concept of interdependence. In personal terms, you and I remain and develop because of the existence of each other. Thay concludes that if we stay mindful of our interdependence that we will treat each other more compassionately and treat the decisions we make with more reverence and thought including the products we buy.
Few of us, if any, think about everything that goes into the products we buy, leather shoes for instance. We just assume they are in a box waiting for us to purchase. Our thought process as it pertains to shoes is centered solely on us, are they the right size, style, color, and probably most important, price. We have absolutely no regard for the cow that lost its life to make our stylish shoes, or the tired mother in Indonesia working a twelve-hour day making cents on our dollar to cut and sew the leather. Or the truck driver who is missing his daughter’s birthday party, again, because he is delivering a trailer full of shoes from the west coast to the east coast.
You see, those stylish shoes didn’t just magically appear in a box waiting for you to try on. They were touched by many hands, many lives, many hearts, many souls. Sacrifices were made, sacrifices that you would only perceive if you held those shoes in your hands, closed your eyes, and felt their journey, followed their path.
The object pictured above is a Tobacco Basket similar to one I purchased a couple of weeks ago at a flea market. When I told the lady that I thought it was a work of art she looked at me with a smirk and said “It is just an old piece of shit basket.” She was to close to it. Given the region, I am sure she had seen hundreds of them in the course of her years. Maybe she had even spent time under a blazing sun harvesting the sticky leaves in a field. Never the less, I ignore her remark bought the basket and mounted it on a wall in my home.
Here is what I see when I look at the seventy or so year old basket I purchased, souls. Souls that harvested the oak trees in the forest. Souls that split the oak into strips. Souls that formed and weaved the design of the basket. Souls that displayed cured tobacco on the basket year after year to be sold at their community warehouse to R. J. Reynolds or Phillip Morris. Souls that pulled my basket across the warehouse floor with a heavy metal hook and stacked this basket season after season, generation after generation, until the need for my tobacco basket ended.
If you think about it, when the tobacco industry changed, when all the small tobacco farms went away, when the community warehouses closed and the production of tobacco baskets ended, souls were affected. For me, an art was lost, the art of crafting, forming and manufacturing tobacco baskets.
Most of the tobacco basket manufactures closed in the late 1960’s, fifty plus years ago. I would suspect the craftsman who made these baskets are long gone, I am pretty confident the guys that made mine are. But I honor them. I honor their time, their craft and their work with a beautiful piece of art displayed prominently in my home. A small reminder of how we are all weaved together, our interdependence, one we share with each other, and the universe.