“My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end,
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
~ Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
Atypical of my gender stereotype, I’ve always been one to ask for directions. At every age, both time and energy are precious, and I try to make the best of my resources. Recalling a day replete with irony, after hearing from two different potential employers that I was overqualified, I drove to an interview to talk about a job for which I truly was overqualified. I could not find the place. Certain that I’d overshot the address, I stopped to ask for directions in a grocery store. Having given myself plenty of time, I wasn’t in danger of being late. Speaking with the grocery clerk got me out of my bubble, and reminded me that I was surely awake. Indeed, I found the place, and what followed amounted to something absurdly depressing. Once again the outlier, these adventures return to my thoughts. As my housing uncertainty continues, metaphors become threatening realities. The brevity of time in this liminal present is exemplified in the apartment building which steadily empties of the lives who have called it home. Everyone knows what’s coming, and we are all being as proactive as possible in this forbiddingly stratified housing market. Being forced out of my home of many years is an experience that combines instability, heartbreak, and exasperation. Incredulity and reluctance have led to an impatience to join my fellow evacuees. Coexisting with packed boxes of all my worldly goods is conducive to imagining moving a lot farther away than across town. Varying degrees of unease occasionally manifest as sparks of adventurousness. What is next, and where is next?
Living, working, and having been actively part of this city for decades, I’m doing plenty of asking for directions and advice from among the legions of people I’ve befriended. It is as though I don’t really know anyone, and am a refugee in my home town. Some are willing to help, but are unable; some are able to help, but are unwilling. Under the weight of desolation, it is as vital to persevere as it is to resist holding grudges. This city kid was raised to know better than to be bitter and reticent. Perhaps some day I’ll be in the role of helping a neighbor find housing, and I will not stand afar and snub. For now, things need to be taken at face- even as “good luck” has come to translate as “glad I’m not you.” Strolls around town are now mournful, being under the shellshock cloud of crisis, noticing the haves and the have-nots. When answering ads, I ask about how these apartments are heated, and if they’re making residents pay for their hot water (which never used to be done before). It’s a landlords’ market, without doubt. On my way to work the other day, I saw a homeless person sleeping in the doorway of an upscale real estate office that brokers idyllic coastal hamlets. The two Maines, and people like me are somewhere in between. As long as I stay in this city, having neither wealth nor influence, a nice place to live will be out of reach. Along with so very many, I’ve been exploring where my prospects can be better- but without surrendering this part of the world. For the moment, the urgency is in finding stability. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, we’re all renters. When we think we’re “buying time,” we’re actually renting something we cannot own, and can at best pay for it.
The impending loss of housing has generated its own measurement of time. In a broader sense, the pandemic has caused a change in how the world has been perceiving recent years. The change is signified in how we’ll say pre and post, as the stream of normal life is diverted- or derailed. Speaking for myself, this year’s spring and summer have been lost seasons due to urgency. It is as though there are constantly more and more and wider rivers to traverse, en route to a clearing as yet unseen. There remains writing, and indeed I have found ways to write through life-threatening trials before. If language really is the house of being, then ambition must be the basement of aspiration.
The erosive symptoms of hopelessness are difficult to stave off. When suppression burns too much energy, I’ll simply entertain the notions in my journals, stepping through the minefields of the usual patterned and condemning responses en route to writing about hopes. Creativity and imagination are potential instruments for doing battle with futility. Amidst this indefinite wilderness of not knowing the when or the where, it is as imperative as ever to keep on doing the next right thing. The humblest measures, those of intention, can still be forward movements. Recently, having another among dozens of apartment viewings, I needed to take time off from work, and chose to walk to the address. Making the crosstown trek and seeing an unfamiliar neighborhood, the novel occasion caused me to notice skies, trees, street repairers, and sundry individuals being about their respective business. The doings of life are in motion while I try to find traction for mine. Does hope require proof? What forms of proof are convincing enough? Are hope and trust reciprocal complements? Such virtues exist in time, yet are not confined to place. In essence, there is no where.