Thursday, July 5, 2012

Home Unexpected Home

For a person who cares deeply about the spiritual and material aspects of being at home, a month of homelessness can be salutary. A month on the road and a few days of upheaval can teach such a person not to hold too tightly to her own precious notions about home-making.

During the month of June, I was displaced in several ways: some expected, some surprising. My wordly goods stayed boxed and stacked in Texas, while I roamed through Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Those were happy weeks: I spent time with my parents, attended the amazing Wild Goose Festival with several college friends, and spent a night here and there with many other friends along the way. I could tell about all these visits, and I would probably draw some sweet-sounding conclusions about how home is more about the people you are with than it is about having a physical place to call your own.

I might attempt that theme in a later post, but now there is News To Tell, and at first, it seems to have more to do with displacement than with feeling at home.

When my mother and I visited Mobile a month ago (here), I decided that instead of buying a house on my rather short timetable, I would rent a house belonging to another faculty member at my new university.  Miss A is a dear lady, older than my parents, and she has been a widow for some years. She lives on the far side of the Bay, but she still owns a home in midtown Mobile, and this house has been rented or empty since her husband died. The house is really much too big for me alone, but Miss A had a wonderful idea: to save time on her long daily commute, she would stay in the two downstairs bedrooms during the week. The spacious upstairs bedrooms and bath would be mine.
Miss A's house. Isn't it adorable?
This plan pleased me in so many ways: the house itself is beautiful, with an easy, old South sort of charm, and the neighborhood also looks lovely. Even more, the idea of living with Miss A seemed like the first page of a Very Good Story. I had not planned on finding a roommate during my first year here, but after a year living with Grant and Jenn, it felt holy-right to make my housing decision based on the possibility of communion with another person. I also liked the idea of giving rent money each month to a person I knew and respected.

All the way back to Indiana, Mama and I made Plans -- plans for curtains, plans for furniture, plans for church visitation, plans for serving tea, plans for carpools. All these plans gave me the sense of authority and security that I associated with home.

Happy to have my housing finally settled, I set off for a week at the Wild Goose Festival. I was to drive back from Tennessee on Tuesday, and then on Thursday my parents and I were going to drive back to Texas, pack up my things into a UHaul on Friday, and drive to move me to Mobile on Saturday.  However on Sunday night, while I was out of cell-phone reception, worshiping with Gungor and David Crowder, Miss A called my mother. She had already moved a good deal of furniture into the house, but within that week the house had been robbed three times. The police were unhelpful and pessimistic, and Miss A decided, wisely, I'm sure, that the house was not a safe place for either of us to live.

And so, a few days before I was supposed to move, I discovered that I was homeless in a very urgent sort of way. While I drove back to Indiana on Monday and Tuesday, my amazing mother was on the phone with a score of rental agencies.

She found a place that was willing to work with us, so I was still able to move on schedule. However, the place is not what I had planned. While I had my heart set on an old house -- hardwood floors, eccentric bathrooms, ramshackle neighborhoods -- here I am in a sparkling new apartment, with a fancy pool and a gated entrance.

I was (and remain) incredibly thankful that the property manager was able to accommodate my rushed application. (The entire staff, in fact, has been overwhelmingly kind and helpful). However, I mourned the loss of my first plan, not only because I love my plans, but because my arrangement with Miss A seemed liked such a good tale, a happy little chapter between "Graduate School" and "Buying a House at Some Point in the Not-So-Distant-Future."  This new arrangement seemed to lack all that charm. As my parents and I drove back to Waco, I was prepared to do little more than "settle" for this last-minute apartment. I was resigned, but not joyful.

I am still very sorry, especially for Miss A's sake, that her house was robbed. However,  since moving in on Saturday, I have realized that this place is more than an emergency way station. It will be a good home in its own right.  Already grace and joy have surprised me in several ways. The apartment itself, though undeniably new, is full of light, with high, sloping ceilings that make me feel as though I am in a little chapel. From my third-story window I can see crepe myrtles, oleander, palms, willows, oaks, and evergreens. Best of all, several of my future students live here, and they not only helped me move in, but stopped by to say hello in the days since. Indeed, I am much, much closer to campus here than I would have been in midtown, and if living here will make me accessible to students, I will surrender all my other regrets. 

There will be more to tell in the days to come, but tonight, I am will simply say that I am thankful to be here. Listen: children are laughing outside. Someone says there is a 900-year-old oak behind Building 6. Storms may roll in. I spent the afternoon walking from room to room, blessing the guests and strangers I might host here.

Maybe this fancy apartment will be the right setting for a Very Good Story, after all.

Home unexpected home.
Come back tomorrow for the grand tour!


  1. I have rarely lived where I Planned To, but I have almost never left a place I lived without some twinge of almost-regretful nostalgia. Home is a funny thing.

  2. No matter how old the adage ... "home is where the heart is"