What is home? Perspectives on community from your friendly neighborhood nomad

Sometimes, I worry that I am TOO much like Jean-Ralphio and then I become concerned. But, let's not think about that right now. 

Sometimes, I worry that I am TOO much like Jean-Ralphio and then I become concerned. But, let's not think about that right now. 

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” -C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

 

I have no home.

It's a dramatic statement (aka 50% of statements originating from me), but nonetheless true for its theatrics. 

My lack of a home is something I have considered philosophically in the past, but especially in the last year--and most definitely during the last two months.

A little background on my state of home-lack: 

  • Since 2013, I have moved (meaning moved myself and my living possessions for an extended period of time) 11 times (I keep whittling all my possessions down too, but there's still too much random nonsense, and I definitely need to keep my complete Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass record collection for REASONS).
  • In 2016 alone, I lived at least six weeks in five different locations in different cities, states, countries, and continents. 
  • For the last two months, I have jumped from couch to couch to floor to couch and back again throughout my Seattle-based friend circle--never staying more than a few nights in a row at one place. 

So, yeah, I literally have no home. However, I have also had the most extraordinary experiences. I have been able to live and work in places and with people that have added to me in brilliant and unexpected ways. I have been gifted opportunities that most are never even offered. 

I recognize my privilege (I doubt fully, but I am still learning), and revel in the experiences I have had--yet still I long for home.

It's odd really, my longing, simply because I am actually quite adaptable. I used to be terrified of new experiences--of losing security--but the more I experienced new things and the more security I lost, the more I learned that it will always be okay. Humans are awesome, because we always find a way to be okay with things (this is also humanity's fatal flaw, but we are not discussing that right now). 

Stick me in an entirely new situation--and two weeks later, it's like I've been there my entire life. (And, I will find the nearest place to procure apple juice, because I am also Buster Bluth.)

This is great for when it's time to start new things, but terribly painful when it's time to leave. 

We all create contextual versions of ourselves. Maybe it's you with a certain group of people, or you in a certain setting. There is a subtly unique version of you that only exists in that context. The core of who you are remains the same, but other fragments and pieces of you thrive or disappear. 

Every time I leave, I must adapt, and, sometimes, I must lose fragments of myself--fragments left to the memories of the people I leave. 

And that is home-lack that I feel: it's those far-flung fragments. 

I have never felt particularly tied to places or things--nor have I have wanted to be permanently tied to any place or situation--but I always feel tied to people. I always want to be permanently tied to be people. Like, it is EXCEEDINGLY difficult to lose me as a friend: no matter how hard you may try. I will haunt you and send you requests to hang out and/or messages relating to your personal interests.*

*At the end of 2016, when I returned from Memphis, I was house-sitting for over a month in Ballard, and occasionally went days without seeing anyone I knew. I mentioned to a friend (we'll call her Amy P.) how sad this was and how I could die and no one would know for days. Her response: "I would know. Because, a day would go by and I wouldn't have received a weird link** from you and I would assume you had died."

**A list of 13 images of moons with Diego Luna's face photoshopped into them is hardly my idea of a "weird link," but I digress.

Anyway.

I feel the longing for home, because it isn't a place. Not really. Or at least not one place. It is a feeling. In my imagination, it is a place where all the fragments of me will be joined together.

A place where I am safe. Safe to be serious and ridiculous and curious and dramatic. A place where embarrassingly earnest is just earnest.  A place where I can talk as much as I want and it is never too much (mwahahahaha!). 

This place does not exist on this earth (C.S. Lewis writes about this longing), so instead, I long for security. This manifests itself in my life in three distinct ways: security of shelter, security of freedom of movement, and security of enough money to ensure independence. 

These are the three things I crave. And, they are three things that have eluded me too often. It is a lesson I must learn again and again and again, but still I hold on tight to my pursuit of security. 

Shelter relates to improving my "technically homeless" state of being; freedom of movement connects to the horror of my semi-constant car-tastrophes (I am gonna pretend I was the first person to think of that word); and money independence is the desire to never rely on any person to pay for any thing. 

These are the three points of security that I live by. 

When I have secured these three things, I WILL BE SET. I will never have to ask a single person for a single thing or any help or show any weakness at all. 

I will be the hero of self-awareness and independent living. Because, if you never have to ask anyone for anything--then you can never be denied anything from anyone. 

And, there, my friends, is the lesson. The one I am forced to learn again and again--while I try and doltishly convince myself that having a place to live, a working car, and enough money is what I truly need--and that I can do it on my own. 

Instead, as the lesson goes, let us consider community

'Cause, friends, community is what keeps me going. It's the strong rock I stand on, or the ropes I climb with, or--when all else fails--the handholds and the footholds I cling to.

Yet, somehow, I continue trying to pretend that community is something I can enjoy  only as long as I am actively paying into it. I can ask for a favor as long as I have a favor saved up in the favor bank (work with me here metaphor-wise). 

That's all fine and dandy when you are on top of the world, but the moment your car breaks down and you have no place to live and you don't have the money to fix the car or pay for rent--then it's all ABANDON SHIP! I'D RATHER NOT ASK FOR HELP FROM MY COMMUNITY BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE ENOUGH COMMUNITY FAVORS SAVED IN THE FAVOR BANK!

Well, as my beloved friend, mentor, and former house-mate Kelsey would tell me: "Don't be a weirdo, Meg." 

Because implicit in this favor-based worldview is a complete lack of grace.

Grace is that tricky thing that flows through all the cracks when you aren't expecting it and overwhelms you with its complete undeservedness. 

Security gained from my independent self just means I absolutely deserve it and earned it and will bask in my glorious self-awareness. 

Security resulting from undeserved grace and generosity is terrifying. Because, if I can receive something I clearly didn't earn--does that mean that life is actually just one long grace note and it's not actually about my individual greatness after all?

YIKES.

A community of grace and learning to accept grace on grace alone is the lesson I learn in perpetual cycle.

It was the fear I felt over a year ago when I launched a GoFundMe page to support my internship in Sierra Leone. My self-awareness told me to expect nothing. My community of grace left me unable to understand as one after another after another of friends, family members, coworkers, former professors, boyfriends and girlfriends of friends just started chipping in--FOR ME. It is unbelievable. You'd think I would have learned my lesson about undeserved grace.

But, then, it was living in Memphis for six months--far away from everything and everyone I knew, yet having an incredible trio of women (Kelsey, Amy, and Kim) watching out for me for no other reason but their own kindness. Believe me, I know there was no other reason, BECAUSE I WASN'T THERE LONG ENOUGH TO DEPOSIT FAVORS IN THE FAVOR BANK.

It was being in Memphis the day when three things decided to happen: my car broke down on the side of the road on the way to my internship, my phone decided to die completely, and my bank made an error and froze my account. I was in a place with zero network support (or so I thought), and independence was not feeling supes great. Here's how that experience played out: 

I was able to revive my phone long enough to call AAA for a tow, and text Kim (who was out of the state at the moment, but called both her husband and Amy). Then the phone died. Forever. 

I drove in the tow truck to a mechanic's shop. Amy was there waiting in her car with a cold bottle of water and drove me to Kim's house. Kim's husband handed me the keys to Kim's minivan to drive while my car is in the shop. I drove to my internship (somehow; no one knows how I made it without my phone for GPS), and then my place of shelter (aka Kelsey's home that she had welcomed me into).

The next day, the mechanic called (the office, cause I still have no phone at this point) and tells me that it is the catalytic converter, and that it will cost $800 to replace. I think I made an involuntary choking sound, because a) my bank was frozen and b) I DIDN'T HAVE $800 IN IT ANYWAY. The mechanic (Ms. Doris as Sandies Automotive; please go there for all your mechanic needs in the Memphis/northern Mississippi area) asked me if I was okay. I literally couldn't respond because I was afraid I was gonna burst into racking sobs. Ms. Doris then said, "Let's figure it out. I bet I can find a better priced part from one of my other vendors, and I will cut the labor costs. Can you do $450 instead?" 

^Reminder: Ms. Doris was a random stranger I had never met.

I still couldn't do $450, but I thanked her profusely, told her that she was a blessing (I almost went full southern lady), and that I would figure it out and call her back.

My mind raced through contingency plans (I am always creating contingency plans), but I couldn't find one that would fix this problem. 

I called my father to let him know the car situation. He shocked me by saying that he and my mother could put in on the card and that I could pay them back--because something would work out.

I gladly accepted this grace, but took secret comfort in the fact that I would still be paying it back though, okay, so maybe twisted up, it was actually totally earned right?

No.

Later that day, I received a message from my sister Sarah saying that she and her husband Trevor would like to give me the money to pay for my car. I couldn't believe the shock of this generosity. I literally tried to not accept. Aka "It's all good and covered. Imma just pay back our parents." But, nope, instead, I had to accept the gift COMPLETELY UNEARNED. THE HORROR.

When I picked up my car the next day, (with Amy getting up extra early in order to make the transfer from Kim's minivan to mechanic's shop before work), I had been given a shocking amount of grace: from Amy, from Kim, from my parents, from Sarah and Trevor, and from Ms. Doris (and also from my friend Kate who watched like six hours of Justified with me via online chat the night before just to cheer me up).

None of it was earned or deserved. It was community.

I wasn't gloriously independent.  I was inextricably connected. 

 

My continued and extended lesson in grace and community has been occurring the last couple of months as I lack shelter (not sure yet where I will be sleeping tomorrow night), have a car with serious issues (not sure yet if it will run in the morning), and only make enough money to just barely cover bills (student loans and phone bill are already paid for this month whooo).

I have become an elemental human: most days begin with the thought where will I sleep tonight and include a search for food. 

Some days, (usually those days between student loan payments and payday), there isn't much food, and some days, my assurance of shelter comes very late in the day (or night).

Every day includes me asking someone else for help.

Yet, here is my privilege: someone always steps up to help. 

I have have slept on the couches, bed, and floors of dozens of people all over the world. Dozens more have given me a meal or let me do my laundry.

And, not a single person has ever expressed anything but open generosity. 

I am reminded constantly of Mr. Rogers advice to "always look for the helpers," because they are everywhere.

I also constantly hear in the back of my mind: "Don't be a weirdo, Meg." Accept the grace and generosity of others--with the full knowledge that you didn't earn it nor do you deserve it. That's why it's grace. 

So, here I am today. Still learning the same lesson in community, but hopefully with a little more humility and perspective. 

Thank you to every person who has shown me grace-filled community. It is not forgotten. 

 

{I am also still totally open to sleep on your couch or floor (I am the succulent of house guests! You can completely forget I exist and not even water me--and I will THRIVE!), so totes keep that in mind. ha!}

 

"All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we're giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That's one of the things that connects us as neighbors--in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver." --Mr. Rogers

 

-Meg

 


In Seattle, there is an actual housing crisis; thousands of people are not as privileged as I am, and spend each day without any security. There are an estimated 500 families who sleep on the streets each night.

Please consider supporting: 

Mary's Place

Seattle's Union Gospel Mission 

YWCA'S Emergency Shelter