September 30, 2017 by Katia
We are programmed to think that certain things are durable, solid, monolithic. A house, a tree, evoke a sense of stability – they inherently suggest permanence. Houses and trees, I’ve discovered over the last year, can be just as elastic as anything else. Sometimes a tree gets sick and has to go. Sometimes a house morphs to suit the needs of its people, like ours did over the years. In an almost evolutionary act it shed its unused, atrophied parts continuously adapting to new realities and demands.
Nine years ago we were about to take a leap of faith and become first-time home owners in a city and country we barely knew. Just over a year into our immigration we started looking at houses in a specific neighborhood deemed good by our Real Estate Agent. Week after week we would visit new properties and participate in intimate dialogues where we mostly listened as houses spoke to us through lacquered wood panels, awkwardly-placed windows, uneven basement floors and low ceilings and sometimes through something far more obscure and yet much clearer urging us to see that they weren’t the right ones for us. And very rarely they would instead lure us in with spice-shelf-lined walls leading to the basement, living rooms with built in round white tables with bright green chairs and just enough breathing room to accommodate our own stories and contain our imagined futures.
Our tiny semi-detached was one such house, spacious and white-walled enough to contain a big, unknown future, making seductive promises through a staged dining area where benches on either side of a long table served as seats lit by a whimsical lamp shade, a windowed countertop with bar stools offered view of the kitchen and a little square skylight at the top of the stairs framed the spot where the branches of the backyard and front-yard trees seemed no longer artificially separated – a feature I had noticed only much later. And then there was the balcony.
In a room – that was first a workspace before doing as most office-type rooms in starter homes do and reapplying itself as a nursery – a big, human-sized, window with a removable net panel doubled as a door to a wooden burgundy-painted balcony flanked by the branches of an oak tree. This was a balcony that calls for a couple of giant pot plants with yellow flowers and a chaise-longue to sit on on the weekend with a cup of tea and read a book, a balcony that summons Buddha statues and quiet meditations among rustling leaves. That balcony’s call was the loudest – so loud, in fact, that we bid on the house, and the house must have chosen us too because during a time of fierce competition the bid, our very first one, was successful and the house was ours.
We never did use the balcony. After an unreasonably long Sabbatical that kept getting extended, we took it down this year. The current occupant of the room, our five year-old, is a mischievous daredevil of the fiercest kind. There was no doubt in our minds that one day soon he would heed the call of the oak tree and decide to use the balcony as a way of accessing its branches – and who could blame him for listening to the backyard tree’s enchanting stories – so the balcony door was permanently locked with the balcony’s only use being serving as an occasional host to a family of raccoons. When my son’s room grew a wall where there was once glass and sprouted a much smaller – but functional – window I thought about the elasticity of the solid and the changeability of the seemingly permanent and irreversible and how solid, permanent and irreversible are mostly mental constructs.
A month ago we traveled to New York while our house was undergoing renovation work. We came back to gutted ceilings, naked walls and jumbled up furniture and I was reminded how much we crave stability, routines and status quo. Now that the furniture is back, most pictures are hung and wordless stories about new futures begin to form, I think about the importance of the idea of elasticity of solids. What greater illustration to the sentence I always repeat to my kids: there is very little in this life that is irreversible. Almost anything can be fixed either by us or someone else who knows how to. Even houses – I’ll be adding now – even trees.
What are some life lessons that you find yourself preaching to your kids over and over again?
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