The book I'm reading at the moment is Homesick: why I live in a shed, by Catrina Davies. I commend it to you. It's superbly written, powerful, thoughtful, evocative, real. A brilliant book.
The publisher's copy on Amazon says,
This is the story of a personal housing crisis and a country-wide one, grappling with class, economics, mental health and nature. It shows how housing can trap us or set us free, and what it means to feel at home.
Issues to do with accommodation and poverty are included among the threads that have woven the cloth of my life. They are not the reason I was drawn to simplicity, but for me they have underscored the good sense of taking that path.
Something that came through to me very vividly in reading Homesick is the fragility and vulnerability of life — of not being able to afford somewhere safe and reliable to call home. It certainly rings true. I recognise it. I know what it is to lack the resources life requires.
Also this week, two friends have come into my mind again and again. Both of them are going into hospital for surgical procedures relating to very serious health concerns. The outcomes are not certain. Again, the fragility and vulnerability of life, and insufficiency of resources — this time, health and solutions.
As I gazed into these issues, allowing their difficult and sombre realities to move in the depths of me, I found myself redirected firmly towards simplicity again. I thought about what it's like to feel overwhelmed, and the causes of it, and what overwhelm means. I thought about the challenges and adversities that come to us, how steep and scary they are, how much they ask of us.
I often think (and I wonder if you do, too) about the terrors of what it means to live in and as a physical organism, with no way to leave except through the suffering of sickness and disintegration, or through profound violence. What was God thinking? What does it all mean? How can one make sense of it? It is the way of reality (otherwise known as the divine plan) that life comes out of death and then death comes of living. The meat and vegetables in my supper came at the price of death — the chicken in the slaughter house, the carrots torn out of the earth, the tiny beings (worms, woodlice, centipedes, mice, grasshoppers, greenfly) broken by the plough and the harvester and the processing plant and the mechanisms of transport. It is death I eat as my means of staying alive. All so impossibly, terrifyingly fragile and ephemeral — all of it.
But I also know that, through the passing generations, even though they dwell in the valley of the shadow of death, hundreds and thousands of women and men have found the secret of living contentedly, serenely and at peace, enjoying their bread and cheese and wine, the fire on the hearth; delighting in the lavender growing by the garden wall, the blackbird singing on the fence at dusk.
It seems to me — I advance this tentatively as an observation — that simplicity is the key, the threshold to such peace. Overwhelm is, quite literally, the condition of having too much on our plates, more than we can manage, more than we can cope with. It follows that the more we can ditch, the less overwhelmed we shall be. Complication and proliferation and pressure make everything worse — "Problems arise where things accumulate" (Toinette Lippe).
Today I am putting out for the recycling lorry, that comes by tomorrow, these three small glass bottles. They had iced coffee in them when I bought them, but I kept them primarily because they reminded me of the little bottles of school milk we used to be given in the 1960s. I hated it, Jane Corby used to drink mine for me, but the memory has an air of nostalgia nonetheless.
They came in handy because I do use just a little milk, but not much and only occasionally, so if I bought a carton of milk I could divide it between the bottles, freezing two and keeping one in the fridge.
But these days I very rarely buy milk at all, so the bottles have stood unused for ages in the cupboard, and I think it's time they went.
And if I ask myself, does throwing out surplus glass bottles do much to take the terror out of life, or offer any solutions for my friends trying to find the courage for the surgical procedures they have to undergo, the very idea seems ludicrous. But I think there is a connection.
For instance, when my previous husband died, he had quite rightly left his house to his son, whose childhood home it had been. Being caught up in the maelstrom of my husband's dying had not been easy, and was only one part of a flowing confusion of pain and muddle that I lived through during those years. But I know very surely that the whole thing was made easier and less hard to bear because I had so few possessions that all I had to do was gather them up, toss them into the back of my Nissan Micra and drive away. It was only the relationship, the man, that I lost; I didn't have a whole physical structure of shared life to dismantle.
The more simply one can live, the more possible it becomes to face life's challenges one by one, dealing with them singly. Adversity is just more daunting when it hunts in packs.
Or that's what I think, anyway.