Two days ago, I opened the pantry cupboard in our kitchen and broke into a cold sweat.
This may not seem a normal response, but just after Easter next April, my husband and I will leave Denver for his sabbatical – three months of sabbath rest and renewal followed by a month of vacation. Our plans include exchanging homes with four couples or families in France and the UK. We will live in their home and use their car; they will live in our home and use our car. We have done this for three previous sabbaticals and three additional vacations and (in case you are wondering or sitting there in horror at the idea of someone you don’t know actually living in your home while you are away), all but one exchange of the fifteen were amazingly successful.
Assuming that most of you have never done this, it might be worth mentioning that we have an entire three-ring notebook full of practical advice and instructions that we leave for our guests (which corresponds – usually – to one waiting for us at their home). This book contains everything from how to use the appliances (and phone) which is not always self-explanatory when you are in a foreign country, to where to find grocery stores (pharmacies, emergency clinics, museums, and interesting souvenirs), to how to cook at altitude, to when the trash is collected, to tipping protocols in Colorado.
But along with the advice – and maps and suggestions for things to see – we also need to pay attention to leaving an empty closet and several empty drawers for them to use so that they don’t live for a month out of their suitcases. And – more to the point – an empty-ish pantry (and freezer) in which to store their food. Those of you who have been reading these blogs know that I have been writing about trust (the cutting edge of my spiritual learning curve at the moment) and the necessity of leaving a larder that is not bare, but is certainly substantially diminished, is a matter of (dis)trust for me.
I was raised by parents who lived through the Depression as children and who were, during my most formative years, extremely poor. We always had enough food and clothing and a roof over our heads, but my parents needed to prioritize, and the words, “We can’t afford that” were a frequent part of the conversation and my 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-year old self absorbed that concern even when the words were not addressed to me. Therefore, we did not waste food, nor did we miss sales at the grocery store. Add to that experience my maternal DNA: my Yankee forebears were people who put up the beans, the tomatoes, the corn, the pickles and laid down eggs in straw for the winter months. A stockpile of food was safety: for the family and for neighbors in need.
No surprise, then, that I rarely have one can or box of anything. Two is a minimum, and three is so much better. But the need to leave that diminished larder will require me to use things up and not replace them. Which means that I will come home next August to a pantry that is pretty empty. And I will come home to the opportunity to decide what (and how much) to replace. [You may very well hear about this wrestling (or discernment, if you prefer) a year from now.]
And, while we are at the pantry clearing, we will be folding away clothes and clearing drawers. Of course, there is no point in storing clothes off site that I never wear, so I will also be pondering the fact that I still feel the need to own a formal evening gown although I have not worn one since we moved to Colorado, and the fact that I think I need five summer skirts (for variety? in case the washer breaks? in case someone my size comes to visit without her own clothes?) but I only wear three of them because I just never choose the other two. And maybe it is time to get rid of the blouse I love to death, but take off immediately after I put it on because it is scratchy. Obviously I don’t need it because it never stays on my body long enough to make it out of the house.
This is truly one of the spiritual blessings of exchanging homes: the chance to carve out space – to allow a guest to live her/his/their life in a welcoming home rather than forcing them to live our life because every single scrap of geography is filled with our things.
And then it is the chance to decide whether that space is worth holding open when we return, having lived quite abundantly and grace-fully with no more than a suitcase-full of “our things” for four months.
It is a profoundly surprising experience every time.
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photo © 2014, Immram Chara, LLC