I didn’t have my own room until I was 21.
Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. As the first born of three, I had my own room for my first six years of life - that is, until my little sister was born. And at this point I was ecstatic to give up my solitude and individually arranged space because it meant sleeping in bunk beds. Bunk beds that I knew would forever improve my life by transforming into forts, make-believe tree houses, and skyscrapers.
Little did I know that 12 years down the road, as a high school senior, living in a small square space with a sibling in elementary school would prove to be quite a challenge.
And then my 21st birthday came. Soon after I proceeded to move out of the college dorms and into my very own bedroom. I bought (read: got from the free section of Craigslist or for less than ten dollars at Goodwill) my very own mattress, dingy bedframe, dresser with missing handles, and misshapen Ikea desk. I painted it all brown and gold, bought a few plants, and fell in love with a space that I could finally call my own.
It was in this space that I started to delve into a world of discovery. Because I didn’t have to worry about keeping anyone awake, I would often stay up far too late reading, writing, and researching. It was as if my thoughts were bouncing off of my room’s four walls and diving into my college papers, creative writing, and letters to significant others.
In my very own room, I also began to discover my introverted characteristics and watched as they sprouted through cracks and wove themselves more deeply into my being. In fact, I rarely felt lonely in my own room and could entertain myself for hours on end.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, this glorious season of solace in a four by four space lasted a mere two years - then it was back to sharing. But if you’re going to share a room with someone during your mid-twenties, who better than your best girlfriend?! I will treasure these basement dwelling, spider-infested, long-winded conversation years as some of the most precious in my life.
After my roommate left me for a year of teaching in Ecuador, I made some grand transitions as well. That (free) mattress that blessed me with countless nights of deep slumber was passed on to its next lucky contender. My Ikea desk was left on the side of the road. My missing handle dresser was given back to Goodwill. And, well, my plants had already died - so there wasn't much change there.
Bidding farewell to my new found spider friends and only household items, I relocated to Nairobi, Kenya.
In Nairobi I once again had my very own bedroom, but rarely did I sleep in it for more than a month straight. Thus, having a physical space in which to nest became less of a reality and more of a creative venture.
Living primarily in Kenya and traveling around East Africa, I rested my head under the roofs of mud huts, hotel rooms, hostels, garages, mosquito nets, and tents. And whether or not these spaces were shared, I found ways to make them my own. This is not to say that I commandeered what should have been a communal space. Rather, I figured out methods of creating solitude in somewhat chaotic environments. Most often this looked like a vision of me tucked beneath the enclosed area of my tightly strung mosquito net, where there was space only for me - not the mosquitoes, not the mice, not the frogs – and it was safe. And it was enough.
Three months ago, moving from Kenya back to the U.S., I once again had grand dreams of settling into my own apartment. “It’s time,” I told myself. “You are 27 and you’ve never lived on your own. This is what adults do. Plus, you love being alone.”
And then, there I was, living in a house with two married couples, two infants, and three children. With one shower. And one kitchen. And one dining room table. Apparently this is the real 27.
I like to call this home the community house, because I’ve never lived in a place so hospitable and people-focused in my life.
But before I getting going on the inner-workings of this not-so-tiny home on West York Avenue, I must tell you about the Swifts.
Up until three weeks ago, I had never heard of nor met the Swift family. But they have a way of quickly sweeping you up into their arms and making you feel like you’ve been doing life with them for years. In the last three weeks I’ve learned more about child-rearing, simple living, essential oils, sprouting, home-schooling, sharing, and generosity than I am able to yet fully digest.
The Swifts consist of a family of five. Nathan, 28, Kellyn, 26, Elisha, 7, Zechariah, 5, Eden, 3, and Avram, 1. Every night they sleep in the same room and every morning all of the kids wake up before their parents to sneak downstairs and munch on carrots (the only food they are allowed to eat as much of as they can handle) and read by the wood stove.
My room is situated right next to the Swift’s bedroom. And their bedroom is adjacent to the Schuerman family bedroom where Mike, 25, Elise, 21, and Gabriel, almost 1, lay their heads.
The community house is massive and I would venture to guess that it was built for a rather large family in the early 1900s. Living here as a child would have been a dream, for our abode contains attics and basements, nooks and crannies, cupboards and shelves, that I, even as an adult, have yet to fully explore. In other words, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to stand on my windowsill and boldly herald this house as a historical Spokane landmark.
If you ever come visit the Swift’s home, aromas of lavender and homemade bread will immediately engulf you. It immediately feels cozy, lived in. Yet, the Swifts only moved into this home a couple of months before I did.
Previously they lived off the grid. Like, in the woods, no running water, and no electricity. And, yes, this was by choice. And, yes, they loved it and rocked it.
But an opportunity opened up for them to move back onto the grid and into a home that would allow them to pour into something they feel strongly called to – open doors.
When I say the Swifts live with open doors, their doors are literally open. Within my first two weeks here, I swear that I saw a new person snuggled up, drinking tea (likely made by Kellyn) on our white-leather living room couch every day. And most evenings more families came over to eat vast quantities of broccoli, quinoa, chicken and potatoes around our dining room table.
In line with communal living, there is an apartment connected to the Swift home that has been set up as a transitional space for refugees. For those of you who don’t know, refugees are those who have been forced to flee their home due to a variety of life-threatening circumstances. Spokane currently hosts refugees from all over the world. In fact, tomorrow we will be welcoming a family of seven from Tanzania. And last week we hosted a family of three from Iraq.
The Swifts are always quick to invite new families over for meals and freely donate their household items. Just today, Kellyn showed me two new frames she had bought for the attached apartment.
Even the Swift children exude hospitality. I have frequently observed them playing outside with our new neighbors and their children, conversing and sharing with ease. [I will have to write an entire blog post dedicated solely to Elisha, Zechariah, Eden, and Avram.]
So when I was picturing my solo apartment in downtown Spokane, succulents on my windowsill and a record player kiddy-corner to a retro-loveseat, I was clearly not envisioning an early 20th century home, five kids, and refugee neighbors. But my goodness, my plans of what should be seem to be consistently incorrect. And my goodness, how thankful I am that my plans don’t always prevail.
Just as I once learned to find my own space tucked beneath mosquito nets, I am now learning to tuck myself into the corners of my new home. Yet, rather than tucking away from my surroundings, I am making my way out of the net and into the beautiful mess that is doing life in community. It is here that I am learning to live as an integral part of something that is much bigger than the values I place on independence and privacy.
And the Swift’s open doors are guiding my way.