[Image by FalseHope04 at Deviant Art.]
The French philosopher, Simone Weil is noted for talking about how important having roots, of having a home is to the human psyche.
To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.
where the heart is
a place to keep the rest of the world at bay
Knowing that home awaits you at the end of the day is a comfort that is inexpressible in many ways. The familiarity, not just of having your things about you, but of the way the kitchen floorboards creak when you put the kettle on, the broken sash on the living room window that squeaks like a mouse having its tail pulled when you close it, knowing how to jiggle the lock on the back door; seeing the jacaranda tree leave purple blossom trails on the grass – that is comfort, that is belonging.
Even if it is not your own house, even if it belongs to someone else and you pay them to live there, you are still able to establish the sense of belonging that familiarity brings. It is that sense of rootedness that nourishes our souls.
So what happens when it all goes wrong?
We are all aware, we can all see, the number of homeless people in our society, the unforgivable statistic. That is something we must address as a society as a whole, but there is another group of people on the rise, a faster growing statistic than even the homeless – former homeowners affected by the economic downturn who are now renters, or lodgers, or living in temporary accommodation with family and friends.
What happens when a large component of society loses its sense of rootedness? What happens when a growing minority of people becomes disaffected? Should we wonder? Should we even care?
I rent my house. I discuss with friends who are also renters the trepidation we face whenever our leases come up for renewal. Our houses may not be perfect but we would rather stay where we are than move once a year. That is the one major disadvantage of renting. At any time you could be out.
Now, for the first time in as long as I can remember, homeowners are faced with the same kind of uncertainty. As jobs are cut and personal debt mounts, holding a mortgage is no longer as safe a bet as it used to be. Many people I know used to say to me : ‘I am going to grow old in this house.’ Now they are not so sure.
I ran into an old neighbour of mine at the shops today. She had just bought a raincoat. In the middle of summer. ‘It’s not even raining,’ I said.
She was getting prepared. For bringing in the washing. Her husband was retrenched three months ago. They have had to sell their house. They are moving to a rented house. She is taking in washing to make ends meet.
That is where the raincoat comes in. The rented house has the washing line right at the end of the garden. It is a long, skinny garden. The washing line is three hundred steps away. She will leave the raincoat on a peg by the back door to collect the washing if it rains. Three hundred steps there and back is too long without a raincoat in the torrential Sydney weather.
‘The washing line in my old house was only ten steps,’ she said. ‘I could do it in two jumps if I wanted to. I rarely got wet.’
She looked sad. She looked like she had nowhere to go.
‘You’ll get used to it,’ I said. ‘The new house. It doesn’t take long once all your things are in to feel like home.’
‘I suppose so,’ she said.’ But it’ll never really be mine, will it?’
I wanted to say that even if she owned the house, depending on the size of her loan, it might never have been hers. Depending on the size of her loan, she might only have owned the front door and an eighth of the hallway. But I couldn’t.
I said the only thing I could say.
Home is where the heart is.
And in these troubled times, that phrase rings true more than ever.