Thursday, 14 August 2008

Houses, good thing/bad thing?

"And tell me, people of Orphalese, what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors?

Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?

Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?

Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountains?

Tell me, have you these in your houses?

Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?"

Kahlil Gibran 'The Prophet'

I'm not about to pretend that we had such worthy thoughts in our minds when we gave up living in houses, lack of liquidity and a need for flexibility had much more to with it! However, the truth of Gibran's words have come home to me more and more, particularly over the past year, since we have returned to the road after 3 misguided years in bricks and mortar, which cost us money and much heartache. Neither am I going to pretend that we don't have a very high degree of comfort, ours is a brand new caravan, with heating, electricity and all that that brings with it, but it does limit how much 'stuff' we carry with us, literally and metaphorically, and requires us to prioritise quite carefully how we apportion space and weight quotas.

I remember when we first took to the road, there was a phrase being used in the media and amongst Friends (we were Quakers at the time) that talked about 'knowing the difference between need and greed' Our current lifestyle certainly helps us with that! An ex of mine used to say that 'one expands to fill the space available' - just for once, he was quite right! (actually, he was right quite often, but don't tell him) There is a wonderful freedom about reducing not just the space in which to hoard things, but also the capacity to distance yourself from the power of nature. In houses, when there is serious rainfall you are hardly aware of it until you step outside and find yourself knee deep! When so much of your identity is tied up with your home, and all the stuff in it that announces to the world what kind of person you perceive yourself to be, losing all or part of it is devastating, not just on a practical level, but on a personal, identity level. I watch the flood victims in Britain on TV with an aching heart, and see these interviews with those returning from their caravans to their bricks and mortar with equal sorrow, for they are returning to an old identity for themselves and the old vulnerability. Don't think I'm being superior here, I'm more sad that they have been given a chance by life to look at themselves, and the world, through a different lens and have rejected it. Instead of treating their stay in a caravan as if it were a holiday, a window on a different life, and an opportunity to learn how well they can cope without all their comforts and 'stuff', they have reduced themselves to 'victim' status, seen themselves as helpless. "Whatever you believe, it's true" were the words of a wise man, whose name I can't recall, and believing themselves to be helpless and suffering, they become so - we all do, if that is what we believe.

This week and last, we had some spectacular storms here, and there has been some flooding elsewhere, I believe. For me, these storms were a delight, snug in my flimsy walls, I watched the light show with wonder, and the play of water and wind with delight, rather than fear. My walls are very flimsy, in every sense, although we are insured, disaster to the van would be a misery indeed, but mainly on a practical level. It would be enormously inconvenient, and, despite the insurance, costly in financial terms, but what matters to me most cannot be taken away by natural or physical upheavals, it's internal. Kahlil Gibran closes that passage about houses with these words:-'For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and silences of night.' To many, this will seem like mystical double talk, for me, it's a profound truth at the heart of my world view. It has liberated me from years of fear and uncertainty, and the anxiety of seeing myself through the eyes of those who would judge me by what I own/have/how I dress etc. I hope that any who read this can also find that freedom and peace of mind, nothing beats it.

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