One minute I was a home owner….
And in the next the bank was changing the locks.
We didn’t even have time to get everything out of the house. The court made the order to repossess just a few days before Christmas and we decided to spend the holiday celebrating with our kids rather than packing.
Most folks would say that loosing your home has to be one of the Most Terrible Things Ever. And it’s true. When the bank forecloses on your house, you feel like shit. To deny that would be a lie.
But here’s the thing – it’s not at bad as you think.
And in some ways, it’s a gift. At least it was for me.
No word of a lie, loosing that house – and my friends, and my community, and in many ways my identity (I was not one of “those” people – you know, the kind that can’t live within their means, who had inflated ideas about what they could afford, and lived like life was one big expense account with a bill paid by someone else) – was hard.
No. It was more that “hard”. It was…like a wild fire, fast-moving and devastating. One minute I had my well-ordered life and the next?
Gone. Up in smoke. Just like that.
The circumstances which let up to it are hardly worth recounting. When we bought the house, my husband and I were busy professionals – he was a college lecturer and I was a newly minted lawyer. We had a future. We had security.
Then the economy went bust. My legal career followed suit as large law firms with a heavy presence in the financial sector and banking (like mine) cut back. Then our son had a massive health crisis and my husband had to quit work to care for him. We struggled on valiantly on one salary for a few years, then my public sector career fell victim to central government budget cuts and just like that – poof!
Where once we’d had careers as “safe as houses”, we now had blind faith and government benefits.
Could we have made different decisions that could have led to a different outcome? Sure. I’ll own that. At the same time, looking back, there seemed an inevitability to it all.
Sometimes I think the Universe – or God, however you wish to label That Which Is or the I Am That I Am – has a way of ordering itself to provide our souls with the right experience at the right time. And I think I needed to learn humility. To know on a visceral level that I was just like everyone else – vulnerable, fragile, and in need of just as much grace and mercy as the next girl.
I needed few other lessons as well. Lessons in faith, mindfulness, and the power of forgiveness.
In the months that we were homeless, I learned a lot about myself. I learned to live on next nothing and make it relatively painless for the kids. I learned to make money stretch like it was made of elastic. I learned to appreciate small things like clean clothes, a warm bed, the generosity of a good friend. I learned to love to fall asleep to the sound of the wind in the trees and the value of a well made sleeping bag.
I learned a lot about marriage and what it can endure if you don’t hold on to bitterness. And anger. And disappointment. Marriage is, in fact, about letting go of all of those things every day. Letting go is, in fact, a vital spiritual practice.
I learned that meaning doesn’t come from what you wear or your job title. I learned to hold on to things that matter like faith, compassion, and forgiveness.
I learned that being broken by circumstance and one or two regrettable decisions can lead to being broken open. That within each of us is a phoenix just waiting to be set free to rise from the ashes of who we thought we were into who we were meant to be.
I learned that as grand as that last paragraph sounds, meaning comes from allowing this to happen daily – that each one of us suffers a thousands little cracks every day only we medicate and distract ourselves from feeling it and cut ourselves off from deeply meaningful spiritual renewal because we are afraid to feel. We live in collective fear of spiritual paper cuts. But through them we could learn so much!
I learned that out of our personal loss, together with my husband, we could create magic for our kids; that sometimes how you view life really is in the stories we tell and that a good story is a powerful weapon in holding back the unholy trinity of Fear, Doubt, and Anger.
How do you create magic for your kids out of the tragedy of loosing their home? In a word: Adventure. And we had the most amazing adventure! Because while we could no longer afford our house, we could afford to put petrol in the car and we had enough to rent vacation cottages during the off-season. We traveled the length and breadth of Great Britain and saw castles and kestrels, fossil filled bays and highland lochs; we met poets, and lairds, and the ghosts of Roman soldiers.
Our kids tell us it was the best time of their lives.
Loosing the house was a gift in one other major way – it freed me from having to worry about it any more.
For years I had wanted to move back to the States. But once the economy collapsed and our house was “under water” (the value of the house was less than the mortgage so we could never sell it and pay off what we owed), our dream of living closer to my family was at an indefinite stand still.
And my dad had cancer. And my mom had a stroke. And I wanted to go home and I thought it would never happen.
But because we lost that house – because it went up in smoke – when the time came and I had to fly like the wind to get to my mother’s side, I had nothing weighing me down. It was an easy decision.
And I am so grateful for it. It’s like the God knew that I needed to be free of the house and organized the events of our undoing – setting them in motion long before I needed to decide – and when the time came, I was ready.
We all were.
And here we are. On the other side of the Atlantic, a short drive from my parents whom we see several times a month. We had Thanksgiving with my family for the first time since 1998. And Christmas. And while a major snow storm this weekend is preventing me from seeing my Dad for his birthday, we’ll see him next weekend and celebrate my youngest’s third birthday a the same time.
You can’t put a price-tag on that.
Today life is very different from what it was a year ago. I am back at work – ironically working for a housing charity (but perhaps more than anyone else, I appreciate – deeply, personally, viscerally – our mission) – and we are currently renting a cozy house while we regroup after the tumultuous events of last year.
I can’t say that those events were painless – they certainly were and I have several scars to prove it. And I continue to miss What Was even while I am deeply grateful for What Is.
And What Is is this: we are all connected. Our attempts to separate ourselves from others through education, class, race, whatnot, are illusions. Our invulnerability is an illusion. But grace and mercy? Faith, hope and love? These are real. These are what give meaning to life.
These are what make life worth living.
In all manner of things, all is well.