Friday, March 20, 2020

"never trapped..."

"such a cozy room,
the windows

are illuminated..."

Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Our House," must be a go-to song for me these days. Obviously, since I used it in a post, only a few weeks ago. But this time, it really is about a house. A house with walls and doors and windows.

When I was a junior in high school, our family of eight moved from a large house in a small college town in new Jersey, to a 1,000 square foot carriage house in a rural estate. If 1,000 square feet is hard to imagine, let me map it out for you. There were two floors. Each was 20" X 25" with a wide staircase bi-secting each floor.

On the first floor, on one side of the staircase, was a living room -- about 7 feet by 20 feet. And on the other side of the staircase, was a kitchen with an eating area, also about 7 X 20. Upstairs, under the eaves, was one long bedroom, "for the girls," (5 of us - eventually) that was the same dimensions as the kitchen. On the other side, were two tiny bedrooms -- one for our parents and one for the three boys. And a very tiny bathroom. Yes, if you are doing the math, those numbers don't really add up. That's because soon after our move into that house, our mom would give birth to twins -- bringing our occupancy up to 10 people in 1,000 square feet.

So, why am I writing about this little carriage house today? It's because I am hearing so many instances where people are feeling trapped in their houses, and restricted from all the ways that they have historically found a sense of freedom and social range of motion.

You see, I was a girl who needed quiet. I still am - I guess. It is more important to me than air or food. But when you have ten people living in a very small space -- and two of them crying infants -- quiet is not something you ever get. In the warmer months, I could walk out the front door and into the woods, or down to the stream at the bottom of the hill, but we were not close enough to a town to go to a library or coffeehouse.

So, in the winter months -- it was all ten of us in a large clapboard box with no privacy or sound isolation. If I wanted "my own space," my only option was to go to my bed at end of our long, narrow bedroom under the eaves and read. But there were no earbuds or noise-cancellation devices to isolate yourself from the cacophony of ten people clattering around day - and night.

Some years later, when my own family of five moved into a small 1,200 square foot cottage, I felt trapped. With only two bedrooms, our own toddler twins slept in youth beds at one end of our small master bedroom, while our 11 year old daughter had a tiny bedroom under the eaves. One bathroom. Kitchen, living room, and a minuscule office for my work -- we were snuggled in tight.

One rainy, winter day, I was feeling particularly housebound. I called my mom in hopes of her commiseration. But she was having none of it. "Kate, what was your favorite house growing up?" she asked out of the blue. I didn't have to think about it for more than a second. "The carriage house," I quickly replied. "And," she asked, "how big was that house, and how many people were in it?" Without waiting for me to answer, she told me, "ten people on two 20 X 25 foot floors of living space with a wide staircase in the middle." I did the math -- 1,000 square feet, 10 people, 100 square feet per person. And that was my favorite childhood home -- of many. It brought me up short.

I have thought about that conversation so many times over the years as we have moved from rambling suburban houses, to urban flats and small town "cottages." What makes a space "home?" What makes it a place where we feel peaceful, secure, and warmly welcomed each time we open the front door? It is a question that is so important as we navigate these times of self-isolation and sheltering in space.

I think it has nothing to do with square footage or amenities, the number of bodies or the quality of sound isolation or the toys we surround ourselves with to keep us distracted. It has to do with how well we use the space within our hearts. How well we exercise retreating into the "kingdom of God," for privacy, solace, harmony, creativity, and deep inner peace. It has to do with the love we express, and the love we feel in that space.

It was what I learned, during that time as a 16-17 year old girl trying to find herself in the midst of family bedlam, that has given me the tools to navigate this period of self-isolation without feeling trapped. To know that I could retreat into myself -- and the peace of knowing that there was more to me than my circumstances -- is re-defining this quarantine. We are never trapped. We are always free to wander the beautiful space within. I was then. I am today. So are you. So are we all.

We each have a very, very, very fine house that is bulwarked in freedom, not restricted by walls. A house whose rooms are filled with opportunities for restoration and renewal. Whose windows are open wide to the music of the spheres -- songs of Soul, and the lullabies of Love.

offered with Love,


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