From 2000 to 2007, I moved at least once a year. Sometimes, like in college when you had to move your stuff home for a summer and then back into a dorm just 2 months later, I moved twice annually. I grew to hate it. I grew weary of all the borrowing. A truck to haul everything, a garage or attic in which to store stuff, a room to share as I figured out what I was going to do with my life, the labor of friends and family. It all seemed so much to ask for a space in time that was evanescent from the beginning proposition. I knew that the moving in of stuff I’d collected in substitute for actual furniture and décor would be occupying whatever space it was moving into for maybe 9 months at the most. Some people occupy a place for 9 months before they’ve finished unpacking and decorating. For me, that was the most time I spent on a place, letting it become familiar to me in the way that only places we call homes can. I grew tired of the oppressive routine of packing and unpacking learning and forgetting.
Yet, here I sit having just moved out of the most permanent and lived in space I have occupied since high school. For a decade I longed for a permanence of space that I finally settled into 7 years ago and it is now that permanence that stings my heart so deeply. You see, moving out of my CA room at augustana and into a townhouse bore no sadness. Leaving the cat pee smell of my senior house for a Naperville apartment to accommodate grad school was a welcome reprieve. But, after 7 years, the roots of your life dig deep into a place and are not so easy to scrape away.
The house whose keys I handed to a lawyer this morning was a part of me and I it. It didn’t change me, but I changed under the protection of its roof and walls. I grew as a husband. I became a father. I learned how to be a father. I was cared for and loved by neighbors. I stewarded grass, flowers, bushes and trees. I created living space out of utility. I invested my sweat and love into this place. In the 57 years that this home has existed, my 7 years were likely of little consequence. New siding, new basement, new appliances and AC. But in my 32 years, this time was sacred. To the degree that I yearned for permanence, I now ached even greater in the space left like letting go of a long goodbye hug.
I was protective like a parent of new occupants. I didn’t want them to use my shower or sleep in my bedroom. I feared they would judge the basement carpet as stained and dirty instead of worn with love from countless games of Rug Hockey. I was mortified that they would not be people who could appreciate the love of our wonderful neighbors and the din of kids playing in the park every summer night. I didn’t know how to let my house become theirs, so I prayed.
I prayed through most of the move. Logistically, I had to think about what I was doing and direct the myriad family who gracefully showed up to helps us move. But in the quiet moments before they arrived and after they left, when I was alone sweeping, vacuuming or hauling leftover random, boxless objects, I prayed. Memories flashed over the empty rooms and I thanked God for the goodness of the events remembered and for the memories themselves. I prayed that the walls would protect the new families to live their as well as they had mine. I prayed that they would be good neighbors and contribute to my community. Knowing that I loved this home not for anything special it did but for the extraordinary love I gave, received and experiences whilst under its roof I prayed that the holy spirit would pour out of the walls like a contagion and infect those who occupied the home and that people who lived there would feel love. Mostly I prayed and fought back tears. Or I didn’t fight them back.
I went back today to vacuum the garage and move the truck out. I had to grab some laundry out of the dryer and leave the garage remotes and keys on the counter. I went in filled with whatever emotion is left when you run sadness, anxiety, worry, appreciation, longing and love into a blender. I was determined not to lose it and cry the whole way home. So, I did the tasks and blurted out loud to an empty echoing house, “Holy Spirit, watch over this place and shower it with love.” Then I locked the door and hurried out to the truck. As I looked up at the house to say goodbye, there perched on the ridge vent sat a dove that looked at me, stood up, turned around and nestled in as if it intended to stay a while. I smiled. Felt relief and calm to the greatest extent I have felt it since we began the moving process and drove away.