Friday, May 12, 2006

Homes, not houses

I stood beside an advertisement for furniture as I waited for the train this morning. The picture showed some very attractive settings for kitchens and bedrooms, boasting that the company’s strength is its low pricing.

The kitchens displayed in the poster were immaculate. Every part of every surface of the cooker, microwave, dishwasher and cooking utensils gleamed spotless and undented. Unblemished cupboards, newly-painted and pleasing to the eye, flanked equally pristine working surfaces. There was not an item out of place: the food mixer must have been positioned using a ruler. The uniformly white cutting boards were unscratched and symmetrically positioned on the working surface, obviously for the expert cook.

Looking at the bedroom furniture, items were strategically placed to maximise space. Delicate bedside lamps bent gracefully ‘just so’. Bedsheets showed the perfect creases of the newly-unwrapped-from-the-packet. Perfectly-fastened wardrobes and cupboards proved that the householder believed in absolute tidiness and order…

…and the posters gave the impression of vacant houses, where people might exist, but in which nobody actually lives. No dumped mugs or magazines. No scuffed doors where small children came into collision with hard wooden surfaces. No evidence of meals shared, of work accomplished, of ventures started. No sign of ‘family’.

The posters were beautiful…and sterile.

Many years ago, I escorted a wealthy Arab couple who were interested in the possibility of buying the millionaire’s house near the convent. The millionaire was away at the time, so the gardener acted as tour guide. Showing us around the garden, equipped with pinewood sauna and teardrop-shaped swimming pool, he stopped at the rose garden, which had been planted within the two or three days before the owner brought his wife to see their new residence. “Do you know which is the best rose bush here?” he asked, extending his hand towards the exquisite £2,000 worth of perfectly pruned roses. “That one”, he indicated, “And do you know how much it cost? It was free with four gallons of petrol!”

Tidiness is a very valuable aspect of life, but there is something about the actual process of living that is not tidy and does not go according to plan. Anybody with small children has to cope with crumbs on the new carpet, shoes anywhere but on the feet of their owner, piles of dirty washing waiting for attention and plates of leftover food in the fridge. Bedroom cupboards are valuable dumping grounds for all sorts of items waiting to be put away ‘when there is time’. The parents of small children have to cope with the unexpected shock of little ones trying their best to be good, but rather unconventionally so. (One of my sisters found her 3 year old ‘helping Mummy’ by cleaning the bathroom with my sister’s toothbrush!)

Living is not tidy and compartmentalised. If it were, it would be boringly predictable, utterly sterile and with no opportunity for personal growth, for appreciation of others, for fun, or for relaxation. Ask any mother if she really needs to put in pride of place the wilted weed she’s just been presented by her toddler. She will ensure that it goes exactly where she and the little one can see and enjoy it, even if it’s the most public place in the home. Most fathers will be oblivious of the mess (or more oblivious than usual!!!) as they help a child to fix a broken toy.

God doesn’t expect us to do everything right all the time. He’s a father. He knows that our days are sometimes a bit messy in spite of our best efforts…but then, he has made this world, not a house, but a home.

God bless,
Sr. Janet