After 52 days of homelessness—or more precisely as I heard it called “sofa surfing”—sleeping between the sofa and air mattress in my children’s homes, not eating their food unless invited, contributing to their upkeep, including cleaning bath tubs and dishes – I finally found a place that fits the basic requirement and income bracket for me, my daughter, her son and her former roommate (plus two cats). It was promised on the 11th, but up until the 14th nothing even remotely resembling a kitchen was in place. No appliances, no cabinets, not even a kitchen sink. But my daughter had already twice extended her lease at her previous address and we were up against a new deadline.
“We’re okay without a kitchen,” we said, so long as we can move in now. It was promised on the 11th. I’m not going to fudge on the dates, because almost every day we were told about one thing or another that would take ‘one more’ day. Two weeks later, I wake for morning prayer and meditation only to find water flooding beneath the refrigerator. And there is still a gaping hole where a dishwasher will one day be.
I’m not spiritually removed from my body, so when I wiped my face and arms after ablution, I used the same towel to mop up the water. Then I retired to my space for prayer and meditation, but upper most on my mind was the list of things “To do” for this next day. Meanwhile, I am up against a deadline for a public lecture on religious freedom and a chapter to an upcoming book on women’s reading of the traditions of Islam. I am thrilled to be sitting at my desk to work but my concentration is broken continually by the demands of the workers. Sometimes their intervention is friendly banter “How you like me now?” the window washer asked, because he happened to be cleaning the windows outside my office while I am at the computer. Other times it is to inspect services rendered, or confirm that a necessary part will not come for yet one more day so the job cannot be completed this time either.
I am honestly so thrilled to have finally emptied the content of my suitcases after travel from India some 8 weeks ago, and to sleep in my own bed, with my own sheets and covers (albeit without a door to close for a week) that I am NOT complaining. I’m loving this down time in my new “home”. On occasion, the service people notice my library of books or that I am actually working at this word processor (and not just playing solitaire) and they ask what do I “do” (as in what is my paid employment)? I give the same answer I have loved to give since it became true, “I am retired”.
Sometimes, I explain what I am retired from: University Professor – because really books and home offices are still at odds with some people. I must also acknowledge that the very idea of “retirement” is impossible for many people in America. Either they are too young or too poor to understand how a person would voluntarily give up a paying job. As jobs go, being a university professor paid pretty well. I mean, I wasn’t an hourly worker forced to clock in. I didn’t have to lift weights above a few pounds, climb stairs, ladders, buildings or mountains. In addition, I had a “benefits package.” One that basically said, ‘because you work for us, we want you and your family to have access to health care, insurance, and a retirement fund.’ Thank you very much.
“Must be nice”, one guy said. Well, yeah, it is nice NOT to be confined to the rat race. To do so, I also had to accept living modestly on a meager income. My calculations included raising five children alone, meaning with nothing resembling shared child support—ever. I felt compelled to offer them a certain standard of living: purchased a house in the suburbs for better schools, drove a reliable car to get to and from their after school activities, and occasional trips to enjoy Mother Nature.
I don’t actually know how much it costs per year to raise a child, but when my retirement service offered free one-on-one financial counseling I did not pass up the opportunity. In the end, she said, well there is nothing I can advise you on. How could that be, you ask? I grew up poor and so was not afraid to live without extras as long as I could live a life of dignity. I knew it would take far less to achieve that once I was no longer providing for my children. The thing is, too many people don’t know how to let go of all those benefits and to learn to live sufficiently. Some people are even afraid to live without constant acquisition.
I identify with the poor, not only in my own USA, but globally. So the moment my youngest child was off earning money to pay for her own college education, I down sized all my possessions and moved to Indonesia in working class neighborhood. I lived at the standard of those around me. Before my internet service was up I went to a Starbucks in the mall to access their service. I had to make a purchase to do this. One hot drink there costs the same amount as purchasing a meal: rice, vegetable, chicken, and tea, locally.
Recently I listened to an interview with Bill and Melinda Gates on NPR, you know among the top 85 richest individuals in the world. They were talking about philanthropy. Then I listened to a guy with a multi-million dollar income talk about income addiction. The number one characteristic, he described, is constantly looking towards those that have more than you. At some point in time we should all learn to live simply so others may simply live. At that point we may know when enough is enough. Yes, there is always more, but giving up attachment to it, really giving it up frees you to enjoy your everyday in so many ways. Try it some time.
amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives. Author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe.
12 thoughts on “Moving In by amina wadud”
I’ve been homeless twice. It is horrific however kind others are.
Thanks for this inspiring post amina. I’ve never been homeless for a long period of time. I try to live simply because it’s good for my spirit. It’s free-ing. It creates inner space where good things happen. Our world needs people who give example of a less possessive way of life.
Hope the fridge gets fixed soon tho!
Brava! I’ll never be able to retire because I never held a “real job” for long enough to get any kind of retirement benefits. I thought I was going to live in that lovely academic womb forever, but it didn’t happen, so I, too, learned to live modestly and to be grateful for small things. We all become stronger and possibly kinder as we go through the “interesting” times.
Thanks Barbara for sharing. Most people in the world do not have “retirement benefits”. So I accept it as a privilege. I was mostly thinking about people near my own age, or older who have been in the system longer but who are afraid to let go of a paying job, despite having all sorts of benefits. Earning can be a trap. May we all be grateful for small things…
Nine years ago I was informed that my position in a college library was no longer needed. I was sixty. From unemployment benefits to (reduced) Social Security. From part time subsidized work to too ill to work. As my income slipped downward, I learned a lot about sliding scale health care and dental care. About housing subsidies. About the $1.00 aisle at the supermarket. About “foodnet” with barely fresh produce and pretty good bread. About “Family Thrift” resale clothing and kitchen equipment. After a while I decided to make no secret about this. I was striving to be “not ashamed”, and I wished those about me to know me as I was. When I gave up driving, I found that my coven mates would pitch in to see that I got there and back again. Car trips are wonderful times for one or two on one conversations.
Still sometimes the old arrogance of being a middle-class, middle-west white girl with two master’s degree twinges. I remind myself that I am working on humility as a spiritual discipline. It is not humiliation, which comes from others, even if those others only exist as memories and habits. It is an inward way of being honest about limitations. It is about asking for what I need and no more. If I can walk with an arm to lean on, I don’t ask to be carried. It is about receiving with grace and gratitude. It is about finding a place in the Great Dance, and keeping time as best I can.
Cathleen, Your last two sentences really reverberate with me, having just helped my mother to move in to an assisted living residence: “It is about receiving with grace and gratitude. It is about finding a place in the Great Dance, and keeping time as best I can.” We’ll all get there sooner or later, from lack of resources — either material goods or physical abilities. Thanks.
Some of these habits have long been known to me.
In some of them I actually find great pleasure. A trip to the closest Dollar stores brings out the most interesting characters from occasional shoppers to die-hards who shop there weekly.
Flea Markets Swap meets and thrift stores teach me about the renewable potential of most of what we earn and I have to remind myself when I do serious down sizing that maybe OTHER people do not want what I still see as useful even if I am not going to use it lol!
Again I am helped by living abroad. Some countries they manage to FIX everything and the idea of recycle is taken to a new height. I love this coming from a country where the average child will grow in their life time to recycle more than 50 times what most of the world’s children will.
Some shop for what we don’t need to fill a void within, while others struggle to be able to shop for what they do need. If some of us realized that we do not need what we think we need, we as a nation might become more generous of spirit to those who do need what they cannot afford to pay for. Sigghhh Learning to live with less is one small step along the way as you say. Good for you for living that.
Congratulations on getting settled into your new digs! It is so freeing to let go of things, isn’t it? My mom gave up a $90K/year job to retire early and live near our grandchildren. I admire both of you for “buying” your freedom with the willingness to live simply.
You might enjoy this story of a woman who made her life affordable on her own terms: http://www.viralnova.com/sick-of-divorce/
Thanks I will look at this when I get a chance. As much as I love being around my grand children I am some times amazed that their parents think I have much more by way of resources than I actually do. I guess living simply has certain merits when obscured by living with dignity too.
Wonderful article !
I am not retired.But I am disabled with two major medical problems that have spawned many others. I am blessed to have Disability Insurance. Even with it I have needed to greatly downsize my life. Now I realize that there were so many foolish things I bought in my youth. I am happy to give them to a charity. Books are my exception.
I would love to find an intentional community that didn’t cost an arm and leg. To share meals, each other’s lives, joys, tears etc. knowing we each have a small space to call our own. It is at this time I crave most that circle especially one of sisterhood.
Thanks for sharing. As we age, we do look for “community” in a way different from what we saw around us as we were growing up. At the moment, my “community” is cyber because so many of my dearest friends are in other parts of the world. But “Space” is surely relative when it come to the other dimension of community. Anyway thanks I appreciate your thoughts on downsizing for other motivations. The results is the same.
ps, I just unpacked the last book out of the boxes in my new digs.. I confess that, although I have downsized my library with each move that I make I still cannot manage to get it as simple as all the other possession.. alas..