Everyone needs to belong

Building a life in a new place takes energy and courage and sometimes I’m tempted to give up. I don’t like walking down a street where no one recognises me, knowing I have to start all over again.  I need to feel safe and secure and I need to feel I belong somewhere.

Yesterday I visited my old neighbours, that is, my neighbours where I used to live. The swans were on the lake, the people in my house, well, it’s theirs now, were feeding the king parrots, the beaches looked wonderful and my garden… I know it’s no longer my garden, but I started it from nothing and loved and cherished it. It was my first home and my first real garden, in a wonderful place, with wonderful neighbours.

Deb, my neighbour, values her family more than anything else and she has adopted me as her big sister. For me, this is  priceless.  I don’t have children and  I can feel my lack of a “normal” family intensely. It doesn’t take much for me to tumble into a hole of self pity- “I’m all alone, when I am old no one will visit me, I don’t have the big family get togethers with my children and grandchildren I dreamed of, I don’t belong anywhere…” I know I’m loved, but most of my friends do live far away, as do my brothers , sisters , nieces and nephews. Christmas especially, can be a time of feeling sorry for myself.

One of my friends used to say that when he died there would only be about five people at his funeral and they wouldn’t know each other. At that time I used to walk my dogs through Waverley Cemetery (Sydney) and reading the headstones would plunge me into self pity. I would think that when I died, no one would come to my funeral because they wouldn’t know I’d died (too many moves, too many jobs, too many scattered friends) and I had nothing to put on my headstone! I was no one’s dearly loved wife or mother or grandmother… So, I asked my friends “Can I say ‘dearly loved friend  of’…”and of course they said I could. Now I have a list of people to be contacted when I die and I can walk through a cemetery  with equanimity. My headstone will show I did belong somewhere.

My aim  to create a  network here where I live is a priority. I’m passionate about the need to create community; for everybody to feel loved and valued; to have a place where they belong; to have that sense of knowing that there are people they can call on if they need; that they are not all alone.

A wise friend once reminded me to reach out, rather than fall in a hole. Or, to remember the words of St Francis:

“Make me an instrument of thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow your love;

“…grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love;…”

Home is where the heart is.

the view from my “old” deck.the view from my old deck.

Home is one of my highest priorities: home, and having my community around me.

Home is where I like to be. It’s where I come to be renewed, where I feel safe and secure- my haven. I called my first home “Hearts’ Ease”- I wanted it to be a place of heart’s ease, not just for me, but for anyone who needed it. And, I grew heart’s ease around the door.

Being a renter in the city for so much of my life, I found it more and more difficult to deal with the regular moves and the constant insecurity- Would I be able to find a place to live? Would I be able to pay the rent?

I used to joke about being a bag lady when I was old and although I was joking, underneath I truly did fear it. It was a dread that tied in with my lack of my own family, of not feeling that I belonged anywhere- the big two for me: feeling secure and safe in my home and having a place where I belong.

Something Gloria Steinem wrote about growing older and still not owning a home really struck me. She wrote that if she ended up a bag lady she would  politicize and organize them. I have a wonderful image of Gloria leading a demonstration of bag ladies- waving placards, marching, making demands…

This, quite literally transformed how I was seeing the future- from feeling anxious and fearful to knowing that “whatever happened, I’d handle it.” ( and thank you to Susan Jeffers book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway“).

Now, I have a home and no mortgage. I am so blessed. I have a friend who will share it with me and together we will work out how to live co-operatively.

I’d love to have a granny flat or studio, a separate space, where we could offer sanctuary when someone needed it. There’s been times in my life when I’ve needed time out to regroup and recover, but there’s always been rent to pay and no chance to call a halt.

I am worried by the reports of the growing number of older women who, through circumstance, are vulnerable to rising rents, some of whom are already homeless. I feel powerless to do much about it- but have chosen to buy a house with a friend so two of us have a home.

We need to find new and better ways of living- ways that are communal, shared and sustainable; where people are supported and nurtured, rather than isolated, alone and vulnerable.

We can do it!