Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Home as Public Space

A Public Space

Friends will be happy to know* that as of this Saturday, the eldest Darwin is now a full-fledged college graduate. Her sister, at the same time, has finished up her 12th-grade classes at the local community college, and is now a high school graduate, making us 3/7 in the post-grade-school department. We plan to hold a party of Hobbit proportions for them both some time in the summer (all the more necessary since the college grad finished high school in 2020 and so had no celebration at the time). You're all invited, of course. I do sometimes wonder (in my tired moments) why we should bother throwing a specific shindig, since it seems like we have so many people passing through this house on a daily and weekly basis that every day might as well be a grad party. The House As Public Space has been my frequent topic of meditation of late.

As anyone who talks to me for two seconds knows, we are in the throes of rehearsals for The Music Man. Most of our rehearsals are held in the basement of a local church, pastored by a dear friend (and cast member). Hospitality is a great charism of this congregation, and the basement, with its kitchen, is used by many different groups. There are tables, chairs, a nursery, and any kitchen utensil your heart could desire (in triplicate). Each group who uses the area has the honor and responsibility of resetting the space in readiness for the next comers, who will in turn refresh it for the group that follows. Many of the organizations that use the basement, like our community theater company, are not specifically affiliated with the congregation, but simply need a Public Space in which to meet.

Our house, to a lesser degree, is a Public Space. The dining room is not merely a place where our family congregates to dine a few times a day. It is a Schoolroom, an Office, a Meeting Place, an Acting Studio, a Game Room, and a Sitting Room. The population of the house, both residents and guests, varies from day to day. I am not always entirely sure how many people will be sitting down to dinner, or how many of them will be actual denizens of this household. 

Given this public use of space, I've been trying to be deliberate in resetting the room for the next use. Have we cleared the table after dinner? Have we removed the serving dishes from sideboard, and put away the leftovers? Are the schoolbooks, if not put away, pushed to the end of the table or moved to the shelf under the windows? Do the vases of flowers that appear at intervals need fresh water? Are the extra chairs put away? Is the floor vacuumed? Is the table vacuumed? (Yes, I've cut the Gordian knot of housework, and use the vacuum for every even remotely applicable purpose.)

This is not to say that the room is immaculate. There are game boxes on the window sills, buckets and jackets and someone's set design project on the chairs that line the wall, decks of cards tucked on the display shelves of the china cabinets, and hay under the guinea pig's cage in the corner. But if the main body of the space can be usable on short notice for some other purpose, we have done our job. 

Family life ought to be a training in resetting for the next users, though often we get too comfortable to bother. How many times have I walked in the kitchen to get ready for dinner and found that someone made cookies and left everything sitting out? How many times have I walked in the dining room in the morning and found that nobody put away last night's dinner? How many times have I come into the living room after the teens had a movie night to find popcorn bowls and seeds all over the rug, and forks and mugs shoved behind the curtains? There's an ease that makes family life pleasant and informal, but sometimes that immediate ease hinders a future chance to make someone else at home in your house. I often find myself resetting in the morning, and that's okay, but wouldn't it be nice if after each use, the rooms were reset so that they were pleasant to walk into, and presentable when the next person suddenly drops by? 

This is a family house, well-lived-in, and we like to live comfortably with each other. At the same time, everything we have is given us in trust, for others. Our house doesn't just belong to us, but is held and administered so that we can share what we've received. And we have received much -- how much, I realize more and more as the years go by. Any family blessed with happiness, stability, and mutual love has an obligation to open themselves, within prudence, to others who yearn for these things themselves. I do say "prudence", because each family has their own gifts and strengths, and their own boundaries which must be maintained for the flourishing of its members, especially the children. 

And speaking of the children: a bonus shot of Mrs. and Miss Darwin, commencing the commencement.

*This statement, now a family catchphrase, often headlined the society announcements in the newspaper of the small Mississippi town where my grandparents lived.


Antoinette said...

Mazel tov to the college graduate.

Bob the Apre said...

Congratulations! said...

Ooh congrats!