After a few wide-ranging conversations with friends recently, it’s clear that each person has their own issues to deal with. We have empathy for each other, as well as opinions (stated or implied) about what the other is doing and the decisions they’re making. The takeaway is that we wouldn’t live each other’s lives. We’ve each ended up where we are for a reason and we’re each living with the consequences. And, as Frank Sinatra sang, “Regrets, I've had a few.” Though regrets don’t mean that we would want a complete do-over or exchange.
My dogsitting, for example, is a temporary solution for me, and a “heck no” situation for others. The weirdness of going into other people’s houses and living in them for a few days or weeks is not tempting to most people, especially those who are at least a decade into living in their own homes. But for me, I get a break from living with my mother and sleeping on a couch in the living room, without having to make a “rent or buy and where” decision.
It also enables me to live the life that I could have lived—in the nicest of houses in the nicest of neighborhoods—if my life had meandered differently.
What’s not to like about having a private pool and high-end appliances without having to pay for them, and even being paid, in a sense, to use them? There is the issue of too many people liking white sheets and towels, and not providing soap and shampoo for the dogsitter, but, still, not the end of the world. Now I know to travel with more things in my bags than when I started a couple of years ago.
The problem is the bitterness creep. If I wasn’t in these “it could have been me” houses, then I wouldn’t be so aware of the discrepancy between what I don’t have and thought I would, and what I do have. Sure, I know that my teacher’s salary wouldn’t buy much more than a small dated house or condo in Palm Beach County these days, and I watch enough house renovation programs to know that I couldn’t afford high-end finishes. But, being semi-retired and living off my teacher’s pension is because I divorced the, at-one-time, well-compensated attorney husband.
With one friend, we have our occasional Shabbat talks where we inevitably get to the “if only” part of the conversation when we reminisce having been married to successful, dynamic Israeli men with so much potential. But the realities of living with them made the vision of extra bedrooms in the right suburbs and tropical island vacations worthless.
Not having a home—especially not the home I had envisioned for myself—has made it so much easier to be ok, satisfied, with what I do or don’t have. The craving for more, for what others have, vanishes pretty quickly when I realize how unnecessary most things are. A fancy faucet is still a faucet. Three places to have a meal are just spaces to move between with a single plate. And, yes, lots of cabinet space is nice, but who needs eight cutting boards, service for twenty, and storage space for thrice-used gadgets?
The reality of having divorced when I did, and working the job that I did, and retiring when I did results in my having stopped caring—mainly, except for these moments—about what I don’t have. My life feels like the Michelangelo quote: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it,” where my life is what is in the stone and I am the sculptor, chipping away at the unnecessary to get at what is.
So, as I sit here looking out at the pool that I will swim in soon (with the dog I’m watching because she likes to swim and I am, after all, here to cater to her), I force myself to stop looking back, again, into a world of what-ifs. But it’s hard when I also wonder if this is all there is and all there will be.
Then, I recall what a friend told another friend who recently turned 60: “You can expect to have ten good years ahead of you with your health intact, so stop moaning and use them.” Tough love, but useful words to consider.
It made me think that not having a house as an anchor has let me be as free as I’ve ever been to indulge myself in doing what I want to do—with no should’s or have to’s. I can be here for those I love. I can live my empathy, embody the essential.
It’s up to me to not regret my future, my meanderings.