—Anne E. Basye
“God comes to you disguised as your life,” says a scrap of paper on my office wall—a quote from the writer Paula D’Arcy.
In my life, God can show up as a tenant.
Behind my home is a room and half bath that I rent to others, a lovely, light-filled space with a separate entrance and windows that face garden and farmland. Those 200 square feet bring me income, company and serious lessons about life.
My renters are generally people in transition, often younger than I am: organic farmhands, students of acupuncture, interns for Indian Health Services and Americorps volunteers who want to live cheaply while they undertake new roles and challenges.
This is who I expect to meet when my room is available. But last fall, I started hearing from older women going through tougher transitions.
All three of the women who inquired—let’s call them X, Y and Z—had been thrown into turmoil by the end of relationships. X, in her 30s, is a teller at my bank, with a divorce and maybe a foreclosure behind her. Now involved with a new church and a new man, she “wants to do it right this time” as they move towards a marriage “on a three-year plan,” she confides.
Y’s full life of children, grandchildren, friends and what sounds like long periods of real prosperity has been punctuated by two divorces. She’s working as a home caregiver while she reboots her real estate career.
Z, in her late 50s, moved a thousand miles away from her extended family, career and apartment for a new relationship. Two years later, crying at my kitchen table, she calls it a mistake. Please, she implored me, saying she had to get out. Can she move in right away?
I know their stories because they’re my story too. I know what their transitions feel like because I’ve been through them. But hearing all their stories in the same week made me realize that my preference for renting to optimistic, temporary people on their way to bigger, more interesting lives is so strong that I would never choose myself as a tenant!
LEARNING FROM CRAIGSLIST
The local Craigslist.com “Housing wanted” posts hold a litany of people in dire straits. “Pregnant couple seeks room.” “Trade work for rent.” “Rent your garage?” “We have great references, going through tough times right now.”
I never respond to those ads. And I never respond to posts from women with a Jane Austen ring: “Tidy person seeks modest and secure living arrangement.” “Single semi-retired woman seeking MIL (mother-in-law apartment) or studio. “ISO (in search of) affordable studio for female and kitten.”
Their language makes me cringe. They sound so…timid. So resigned to whatever humble corner they can afford. So resonant of diminished prospects, abandoned dreams. Not at all like bold, adventurous me, whose place is a launching pad, not an affordable refuge for the “semi-retired.”
And those guys who think they can live for free in exchange for picking up a wrench or a shovel now and then—no way are they moving in. I need the cash. As X, Y and Z shared their stories, it occurred to me that if I had to post on Craigslist, my ad might say: “Middle-aged, twice-divorced empty nester needs your rent to cover bills comfortably.”
If I’m honest with myself, I’m just as vulnerable. As vulnerable as the millions of other women with a roof and four walls who have taken in boarders after being widowed or dumped or perennially single.
Me too. Me too.
Anne E. Basye is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest and the author of Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal (ELCA, 2007).
This article is excerpted from the May 2018 issue of Gather magazine. To read the full story or more like it, subscribe to Gather.