I'm reading a great book by Lorrie Moore right now called A Gate at the Stairs. I love Moore's work. I have a soft spot for her, too, because, like me, she grew up in upstate New York and, like me, she went further upstate for college, to St. Lawrence. But that doesn't matter so much, she's a great writer; I've read all of her books and none have ever let me down. This story, so far, is really funny. There's one great passage that has stuck in my head for days. It's when the narrator, Tassie's, brother, who is stumbling through high school, brings home a report card that sports four F’s and a D and their dad remarks, “Well, Robert, what can I say . . . It looks like you’re spending too much time on one course.’’
I howl every time it pops into my head. It makes me think about how seldom we look at the other side of things, how we so often forget that there's usually something good and maybe even funny, sitting inside something not-so-great.
Earlier this month the kids and I moved out of the house we had been living in for a few years. It was an unexpected turn of events for us, a bit out of our hands, but the timing was actually kind of interesting. Richard, my former husband (and current friend) and I sat down and talked about what would be the best thing to do for the kids, given that I was taking a preaching job two hours south of here and that Nate was going to be graduating in another year. Resettling them into another home in Charlotte didn't really make sense, so we decided that the kids would all hunker down in the house Richard lives in, the house we shared when we were married. It's a big house with some land and a pool and the lake out back -- a kid's paradise, for sure. Richard is an infinitely generous and kind-hearted human, and so we also agreed that I would stay there from time to time, so we could all share meals and be together. A thoroughly modern family affair, if I may say so myself.
So far, so good. The kids are really happy and, for perhaps the last gasp of their growing-up years, all together in one place. I put almost all of my things in storage, filled a room at Mom and Dad's with my clothes and books, and have been moving around these weeks, staying in different places. At first it was very hard, to be unmoored, to be "homeless." Every time I said that word, tears welled-up in my eyes, and then I realized what a jerk I was for thinking I was experiencing anything close to true homelessness; what an ass for imagining for one second that this is a hardship or that I am without shelter. Slowly the blessings started to sprout: I no longer take things like a warm shower for granted; I thank LL Bean daily, for having created a sturdy duffle bag; I care less than ever about what I'm wearing. And perhaps the best: everyone I talk with offers me a room. This world, in case you haven't noticed, is full of really nice people.
I have thought a lot these past weeks about our attachments to things, about our desire for ownership of buildings and land. I wonder why we're like this, why we feel the need to surround ourselves with lots of stuff, why we dream of owning something even though we know perfectly well we're only here for a while. My new condition has turned me into a kind of social scientist. I find myself studying people and their habits and ways of living with the curiosity of a Martian.
Things will eventually sugar-off and I'll land somewhere with some consistency, I'm not worried about it. For now, I kind of like this nomadic thing. I like how simple life is. I don't miss my Cuisinart or my serving platters, my 25 mugs or my butter knives. I don't miss any of it, actually. I'm appalled by how much time I've spent over the years, cleaning toilets and vacuuming floors. And it was all great, but there's something really great now, about this other way of being. It's funny to think how I've come back around to where I was thirty years ago, living a kind of smallish life, only this time I don't want the house or the picket fence or the cars or the furniture or the stylish glassware. I had all of that, now I want less of everything and more of everyone, and in many ways that's what's happening. Because I'm not spending time tending to a building or a plot of grass, I have more time to tend to humans.
Life is so very good at throwing us curveballs. This world will break your heart, over and over, in sorrow and in joy. So many things will happen that you never thought would happen. It's best, I think, to stay open, to be ready. If we teach our kids anything it should be to be adaptable, to know where the duffle bag is and how to use it, to accept that the new thing may very well have something important to teach. I love Herman Hesse's poem, Stages and I quote it often. Because I believe it to be the truth:
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking.
Or else remain the slave of permanence.