I was talking to one of my oldest and dearest friends today. She was telling me about her lovely new house. She made a comment about not wanting to have people over yet, because she barely has any furniture. As I was looking around my own modest abode and thinking over her words, it occurred to me that she has no concept of poverty, and neither do I. It’s not too surprising, I suppose. We were both raised in solidly middle-class families. There were times of struggle for our parents, to be sure, anxiety in times of unemployment and far, far too many bills, but there was always food on the table, even if it had to be put on a credit card from time to time. There was always furniture in every room of homes growing up, even if it was just of the “starter” variety and not the upscale pieces our mother’s dreamed of. Everyone had a bed and the sheets and blankets to go on it. Life was the same all around us. All our friends, neighbors and relatives had houses of one sort or another and they all filled every room within their middle-class means and often times beyond. It’s what was expected. Our culture dictated that your house be kept to a certain standard and that standard was to be met before a person would even consider entertaining company.
What now, for those of us who can’t afford to live up to that standard? I once had a friend named Sarah. She was quite possibly the strongest, bravest woman I’ve ever met. She was a young widow, with a young daughter. Both daughter and mother developed MCS after a hidden leak in their home created the perfect breeding ground for one of the most toxic forms of mold. We never did get to meet face to face, but just being able to speak on the phone was a huge comfort to us both. We’ve long since lost touch now, but I think of her often and hope they are doing well. I remember her once telling me about having to get rid of everything that they owned because it was all contaminated. They moved into their new apartment with nothing at all…nothing. They bought a couple of new pairs of clothes and that was about it. She told me that it was so strange, because she never would have thought of it or expected it, but her friends couldn’t handle her being poor. They ultimately choose not to be involved in her life anymore.
I have to say I never would have expected it myself, but in our own journey I’ve also found it to be true to a degree. People have a way of making it pretty clear that they have no interest in visiting our home, and they are clearly uncomfortable in the rare times that they do.
Not everyone reacts in the same way. My neighbor can come in, kick off his boots, stretch himself out on the floor in front of our wood stove and be perfectly at home. For others it’s not that easy. When I think of how some of my relatives scoffed at our first apartment….I can’t even imagine how they would reaction to our cottage would be! (the people I’m thinking of would be horrified. I guarantee it.)
There are times when I get down about our home and our lives. As a home maker I suppose it’s not absurd to assume that at least a small part of how I define myself is through my home. In the past it’s been a source of creativity, and my number one hobby. This is still true to some degree, but now I hit a lot of walls while trying to make progress; no money, no time, no help, no free-hands, and always so much more to be done. And there are days that I believe my identity and self-esteem suffer for it. It’s interesting the way that our attitudes and moods can be so easily influenced by our environment.
I’m still working on redefining what “home” means to me. It’s not always easy when society’s ideal is so drastically different from our reality. I do what I can and I do it with as much faith and love as I can muster.