I have been wondering how to deal with the fact that my life is brimming with good things while others are suffering, and chaos reigns in many aspects of the larger society. There is a scale between guilt on the one hand and smug, oblivious self-satisfaction on the other that I am trying to navigate. A delicate point somewhere on that scale is a state of humble gratitude. It is delicate because it is hard to rest there for any length of time. It becomes easier when I think of gratitude as a mix of comfort and joy. That’s what I have been experiencing lately.
Let me raise a glass to current life in our house, the Pink Lady. I haven’t named her recently or written much here because things have been shuffling and changing over the past months. We are still in a pandemic, which in itself changes things. I haven’t had much new to say about that for a while. But now I see some surprising ways the pandemic has brought benefits to us, thanks partly to the vision we had when we bought this oversized old home three and a half years ago.
We envisioned increasing the beauty of a corner on the edge of a historic neighborhood. We have done that by putting finishing touches on the house renovation and creating an outstanding shade-and-wildflower garden on the large lot.
We envisioned filling the house in ways about which we were pretty vague. Family visits? Renting the third-floor semi-apartment? Eventually having space for a caretaker in our old age? Hosting people needing temporary housing? Filling the house with refugees?
The first three years we rented the third floor to a very busy graduate student who needed a place to sleep four nights a week. We hardly saw Michael at all. We hosted family occasionally, and the two extra bedrooms on the second floor served well for that.
In March of this year, Michael’s graduate program ended and he moved out; we welcomed Ben, an asylum-seeker from Uganda; and the pandemic arrived full force. Ben moved into the third floor and we all stayed home.
Family visits ceased and have now been postponed to some unforeseeable time in the future. Given the continuing draconian changes in immigration policy, Ben’s future is also unforeseeable. He may not be financially independent for some time. But he has turned out to be a great housemate, helper, and companion and the open-ended nature of the arrangement is just fine with us. He is keeping our new garden weeded and watered and it looks spectacular. He also cleans up the kitchen every evening and does a better job of it than Vic and I ever did. Ben is a joy to be around when he is around. He has his own space and, increasingly, his own friends and odd jobs that take him outside our “bubble” in ways with which we are pretty comfortable.
Our comfort with this arrangement caused us to leap at the chance to welcome another asylum-seeker to our household just over a week ago. If one works well, why not two? Those second-floor bedrooms aren’t going to be used by family visits anytime soon. “Sandra” was part of the same group of African asylum-seekers who landed in Mexico last fall and made their way to detention in the US. She’s also from Uganda and we learned to know her before everything shut down. She and Ben are good friends. Her host in this city was unable to continue the open-ended arrangement imposed by the pandemic and changing work rules. We talked among ourselves and agreed to invite Sandra to move in.
Sandra is not only a delightful person; she also loves to cook and clean! Suddenly we have a live-in gardener, cook, and cleaner. We pay Ben and Sandra for certain duties; the rest they insist on doing in exchange for our hospitality, and nobody does anything they don’t like to do. Real jobs have to wait for long-delayed work permits.
We feel like an expanded family. Ben and Sandra are about the age of our children. Both are communicating with and helping support families back home. They have suffered much in getting here and the burden of their uncertain future weighs heavily on them. We’ve experienced, in the past 10 months with Ben, some of the stress and cruelty of our dysfunctional and often cruel immigration system, complicated further by the pandemic. However, the rewards have been far greater. These two are bringing liveliness and warmth to life in the Pink Lady. Comfort and joy.