There are many good reasons not to allow another—a “stranger”—to move into ones spare bedroom. The reasons are obvious. Axiomatic. We don’t need to convince ourselves of these things, so self-evident, do we? Then why am I up in the middle of the night pondering this very thing—my conscience troubled by that empty, spare room upstairs—by that individual whom I know could benefit so much through its use; there is a need, and there is a solution, so simply available.
But I like my space…I can often be generous with my money, sometimes even with my time, but my privacy? We must draw the line someplace, can’t we?! Come on now… Remember that time several years ago…?
I’ll let you in on a little secret. We once let an older lady stay with us for a few days. She slept on the futon in the living room (we didn’t have a spare room at the time). True, she had some mental problems, she was certain the government was spying on her, and that they had used her for medical experiments numerous times since her childhood. Apparently they were still after her and she was frightened. These things were untrue, of course, but her fear was real. So she stayed with us for several days and we looked after her.
She couldn’t take care of herself. She was incontinent, and urinated on our futon. There was simply too much liquid, so we had to throw it away. But before that, she started a fire on the stovetop. Had not Grace, my first wife, fortunately been home at the time, and able to put out the fire before it grew, we very likely would have lost the house, and this dear lady her life. As Grace battled the flames, she slept soundly upon the futon unaware of the fire she had started by leaving a bag of groceries on the burner, and then turning it on…and then going to sleep.
This is a convincing anecdote I think, good enough to justify my misgivings about the spare room upstairs. I believe I can go back to sleep now, at ease, my conscience mollified by good common sense and experience. I will return to bed now and sleep; but somehow I know this matter is far from settled within me.
Conscience can be polite—ignore it—and it will often go away; neglect it, and it might grow quiet. In fact, sometimes even eating a lot will make it shut up, at least for a time, at least until we eat again—but be sure to eat a lot, so as to shove conscience far down—the weight of food can overwhelm it. However, conscience too can be aggressive, needling us, refusing to stay down. Rising up again like heartburn.
Our spare room—there it was the next morning as I walked out our bedroom door. As I turned to descend the stairs, I glanced to my left and through its open doorway: a nice little room with a queen-sized bed, a nightstand, a chair and low coffee-table. It is a very comfortable room, with a window looking out onto the tree-filled lot behind ours, quiet, with a view of the local fauna: owls, deer, raccoon, and small birds of all sorts. It would be the perfect place for him to stay—it even has a full bathroom adjacent to it! Perfect!
This perfect solution has been dancing around in my head for months. “Dancing” isn’t quite the right word for it, perhaps too playful a word, maybe “jostling” is more appropriate. No, I’m looking for a word that denotes more struggle, and difficulty, and angst—clashed! This perfect solution has clashed against my desire for solitude, and my need, real or imagined, to maintain my sanctuary of personal space: my home, my castle, my oasis, a port in the storm. In this crazy world there is no place like home, but how might that peace be broken and altered by the presence of another? But couldn’t he likewise benefit from a “port in the storm”? Yes, perhaps much more than even I do. Our home could be a “life-saver” for him, or at least a place for him to find stability, possibly feeling the firm ground of a loving home for the first time in his life. How could I deny him this chance? I certainly would be grateful myself for this kind of consideration, were I in his position. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I have difficulty shaking this suggestion (command), which was given to help us learn to love each other a little better, a little fuller, and a little deeper.
“God loves a cheerful giver” and I am not cheerful about this idea of giving our spare room for another person’s use. Well, honestly…I am cheerful, even joyful—if I’m completely honest about it. And since I’m being completely honest: I also feel nauseous about the idea. I ponder alternatives: How could we share our home, without sharing our home? Maybe we could convert the shed into a habitable space instead, or buy an RV and he could stay in that, or maybe buy an empty lot and put up a tiny home for him, which could also be used by others in the future—that would be even better. But these ideas, when fleshed out, and after the math is done, are far too expensive for our means. The spare room, on the other hand, costs us nothing but our privacy (and a little electricity and water). These are a small price to pay. The benefit for him far outweighing the cost to us. And, of course, giving always has a surprise benefit and ‘payoff’ for the giver; so I’m sure, in the end, we’d be happy we did it. Plus, there is always a thrill involved with any act of selflessness; that wild abandon of throwing caution to the wind! Still, oh…my privacy!!
Our spare room is not just a spare room, we also use it to store things which have no other place, we do our ironing in there, my wife has her sewing machine set up there, and in the summer, when our bedroom gets too hot and stuffy, since it is at the front of the house facing south, when it is too hard to sleep in our room, she sleeps in the cool and quiet of this spare bedroom; also to find escape away from the noise of the neighbors, who we hear through our open windows at the front of the house. It is also a guest room—we’ve had sisters, nieces, and brothers-in-law visit and stay with us using that room. How could we do any of these things, any longer, if we invited a visitor to move into that room and live there?
It is not only a spare room, nor even a simple guest room, but it has also become a fulcrum for my thoughts and feelings about how to show love towards my “neighbor”, and the boundaries and limitations of my love. For every good reason I can assert for not sharing this room with our “neighbor”, our friend in need, I can easily find a counterargument in favor of sharing it with him, when argued with empathy and kindness. If I argue simply from my point of view then it becomes rather easy: I need my privacy; I like living with my wife and two dogs and don’t want to share our home with anyone else; I need our home to be a sanctuary so that I can be refreshed and recharged and able to face the world again; I want to walk around without any clothes on if I want to (I don’t often do this, but I could); I want to be silly and say silly things to our dogs and even sing made-up songs to them without worrying about looking silly. All of this is fairly reasonable. But when I argue from his point of view I feel a little bit petty: he has no family and no friends in this area, he is very lonely, and he is a very social person in need of people to interact with on a daily basis; a family of sorts could be a great benefit to him; he has numerous physical challenges which make life quite difficult for him and he could use some help; his job doesn’t pay enough for him to afford to live in a healthy environment, settling for bad situations due to economics, and he has some circumstances which make getting a better job difficult; he could save money by staying with us and prepare for a better future. He could thrive and grow in a nurturing environment such as we can provide for him. On the other hand, this whole enterprise could blow up in our faces, and nobody may be better off for the experiment. There are no guarantees. But is love ever poorly spent? Even if it costs us everything?
I suppose it depends on how you look at it. I cursed when we had to throw away our futon, urine-soaked and stinking. But now, in retrospect, it is a funny story, and makes me smile. I miss that crazy lady; she was interesting. She could have burned our house down, and somebody could have lost their life. Certainly that isn’t funny. But what are we living our lives for, and who are we living them for? Are we living only for today—only for this world, and only for ourselves—or are we also living for eternal life, and for someone beyond ourselves? It depends on how we look at it—for each of us, so much depends on how we look at it.
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