Last night I was with a divorced friend who discovered that her marital home was up for sale again. Within seconds, we were able to virtually visit the house. Frankly, the Internet allows us way too much information on our past lives: our exes, who they are dating, what establishments they are frequenting, and so on. So I guess we should have been prepared for the uncomfortable intimacy of seeing photos of someone else living in the dwelling that she and her family called home for over a decade. Of course, we dished about how the cheap Ikea furniture was totally out of place in such a stately home. But the catty fun ended when she saw what the current owners had done to her garden, the garden that she literally built from the ground up (there was no yard when they first purchased the place).
She recounted the hours she spent in her garden, mulching, weeding, watering, a labor of love that she thought would continue to bring joy to the new owners. Yet they chopped everything back, pulled out plants, and (gasp!) installed an unsightly swing set. It was clearly a slap in her face.
Soon, I was sharing details from my former home: the flowering pear tree that had split in half during a storm, the way the new owners pulled out the beautiful climbing hydrangea that we waited three years to see bloom, and other tragic changes. I am glad that I have moved to a different city because I never want to drive by my old home, and I certainly don’t want to know if they have tiled over the mosaic backsplash that I personally made and installed while 8 months pregnant with my daughter.
We lose a lot in a divorce, but the family home may be the worst of it. Clearly, we do all we can to take good care of our kids during a marital split to make sure that they suffer as little damage as possible, but the home is often a necessary victim. Once a source of pride, the scene of momentous occasions, perhaps the only home our children have ever known, the house gets reduced to a “marital asset” to be divided and fought over, and usually sold. And this special place where our children were conceived, born, and raised often ends up in the hands of strangers.
I had already experienced the loss of a home, my childhood home, albeit I was a grown up when it happened. My family had lived in the same 1960’s ranch in Malibu for over thirty years, when my parents had to sell it to move out of the area, and because it made financial sense to do so. We all recalled decades of good times there and mourned its loss. A year later my parents went back to see some friends in the neighborhood and were astonished to see that the house had been razed, completely demolished in order to build a McMansion in its stead. At first my mother was devastated, but then she wisely realized that the house was forever ours, that no one would ever live in it again.
If we think about it, this is always true. Once we move our things out of a house, it is just a shell. It is our presence that gives it meaning, and that importance will always live in our hearts and minds. I still dream about my childhood home.
In addition, I must admit, that I am still a sucker for the line that “Home is where the heart is.” Moving to an apartment in the Boston area taught me that. I have lived here two years now, and I have a lovely, light-filled apartment that I set up and decorated all on my own. The kids are in some of the best public schools in the country and have lots of friends. I myself have wonderful friends and a large community of single parents. This move taught me a lot of lessons, one of which is that I can make huge life changes successfully and find happiness wherever I am.
This is as good a time as any to share a nugget of wisdom gained from my monthly book group. Last month we read the book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki. In a chapter appropriately titled “Transiency,” Suzuki reminds us that everything changes, that this is a universal truth, one that isn’t so easy to accept. In fact, in the teachings of Zen, all of our suffering comes from “our non-acceptance of this truth.”
This line really hit home for me, no pun intended. Like everything about our lives—our bodies, our children, our jobs, our relationships—our homes will change. If we can learn to accept this truth and find composure amidst the change, we will find Nirvana. Or at least a little momentary inner peace. In the meanwhile, try to avoid Internet photos of your past lives. They just plain suck.