(On the occasion of the 5th Anniversary of the Rebele Family Shelter)
Life is endlessly rich and full of irony. Things don’t always turn out exactly as we plan or hope. Sometimes outcomes are just the opposite of what we expect. There are twists and turns along the way. Juxtapositions that mysteriously occur. Never underestimate irony. Embrace it. Irony is one of our greatest teachers. It always reminds us that everything has the seed of something else growing inside of it.
Given my history, I could say that I’ve looked at home from both sides now. We could queue up the Joni Mitchell record but that would be a bit corny. And that would be a little bit too simple. We are all just people on the continuum. Maybe we are and maybe we aren’t homeless. Maybe we have a roof over our heads for now. Maybe we don’t.
What I can tell you, both from being without home and then from working as a Realtor and having danced so closely with so many people going through such an incredible variety of life transitions ( all the biggies: marriage, divorce, birth of twins, death, illness, old age, coming of age, new job, job loss) is this: Home isn’t just an either/or thing. Home isn’t just an all-or-nothing thing.
My theory is: It’s not just home-less issues we are fighting. The entire country is locked up in a steel-cage wrestling match with its own demons. We’ve got lots of “issues” as they say. I think the home less issue is just one expression sitting at the end of the much larger spectrum of home-ness issues we face.
And home- ness is about learning how to find and appreciate our own unique relationship to heart and home. Even as the culture all around us is busy becoming more discombobulated, more out of touch and more out of whack with what home really ought to be. That’s the challenge. That’s the extra assignment of home-work we all need to keep doing.
If we think of homeless people as somehow being people outside the loop, existing in some other strange dimension apart from everyone else…..then….. they become the OTHERS. They become LESS THAN – HOME LESS THAN the rest of us who have homes.
My contention is that there just isn’t that much that separates any of us who are journeying around the great wheel of life. There is almost no degree of separation. Just a bunch of tiny threads and small choices and snap decisions and brief moments in time that are getting pulled and tugged in different directions while things remain in constant motion. And the story keeps turning. All around us.
If anything has shown us how fluid this notion of home-ness is, it’s the last five years. The Rebele Family Shelter has done its home-work. Tirelessly and heroically it has helped to bring more than 300 families back to home. Helped them find a place of re-entry into the world.
But an ironic thing happened on the way to all those families finding their way back.
The world itself was going kind of crazy. Spinning out of control. Millions of other people were losing their homes in the bursting bubble of the late, great real estate boom. People losing their homes became a national pastime. A sad truth that will be reflected in the stats on the front page of tomorrow’s paper. And the next day’s. And the next’s.
The world has been drifting out of orbit, further and further away from home and heart all this time.
There was leverage and low interest rates. Equity lines and negative amortization. There were subprime loans and credit default swaps. People began viewing their homes as cash cows and milked them for all they were worth. There were ego homes and monster homes and homes that were getting flipped and re-flipped on Reality TV.
And ….now…. we’re here on the ultimate flip side of all that flipping. And not surprisingly…we’re flipped out. We’ve got ghostly subdivisions and sprawling tracts of homes sitting empty in the fields of the Central Valley. And ringing the outskirts of Las Vegas, where the betting capital of the planet lost the bet. We’ve got bailouts and a credit crunch. We’ve got late payments and notices of default. Foreclosures and short sales. Declining values and shrinking nest eggs.
And meanwhile… Rents are rising as fewer and fewer people can afford to be homeowners. And even more people are living paycheck to paycheck. And more people are struggling to make ends meet – one small disaster away from a much bigger disaster.
Is there anyone that doesn’t know someone who is underwater? Late on their payments? In default? Or in foreclosure? Or in the middle of a short sale? Or worried about some or all of the above? Anyone?
So there you have it. Home isn’t something that happens while we are busy making other plans. It is right here. Right at the center of everything we do and everything we are.
While all this is happening, someone, somewhere has to stay home and keep the home-fire burning. The hearth warm. Keep the porch light on. Continue to leave a trail of bread crumbs for others to follow. Somebody has to stay in the trenches and keep it all simple. Help people with food…shelter….warmth…clothing,…. showers….safety…a place of refuge… That’s the work of the Shelter. To maintain balance and hold the center in the face of the maelstrom. Hold the center.
So We’re all here in one way or another to pay homage to home. Not to any particular story about home…but to all the stories about home. This is a celebration of some of the beautiful ways that the people of Santa Cruz have found to share home with each other…
My past and present have given me a deep appreciation for all the things that home is for people. A deep reverence for its meanings. The trick is to remain mindful of it all. To be able to hold it all in your heart. The good, the bad and the sometimes ugly. The strange, the touching, the sad and the glorious. All of it. All of it at the same time. Because all of it is what fills our hearts up.
I’m convinced that in order to do this work day in and day out, we each have to keep reminding ourselves where home resides inside of us. We have to keep going there and renewing that place.
This brief meditation was a small metaphor for what the Rebele Family Shelter does every single day. It slows things down so folks have time to think and perhaps even more important, time to feel. Time to breathe. Time to accept and acknowledge the help of others. And time to remember and appreciate those simple things about home that can mean the whole world to someone in need.