Sunday, April 5, 2009

My Future Cardboard Estate

I was recently asked the very curious question of where I thought I’d be in ten years. After a moment’s thought, I responded that I expected to be homeless. Given the look on the inquirer’s face, I gather that this was not the anticipated answer. Lacking any forethought, I made little attempt to redeem myself and quickly changed the subject. But since then, I’ve thought about it a bit, and I still mostly like my answer.

I imagine I was supposed to say that I would be resting on my laurels, enjoying routine opulence, and perhaps wealthy and famous. While none of these are necessarily ignoble ambitions, they are all self-serving, and may be had with total disregard to the other people in my life. The truth is, if I’m going to be homeless, I also intend to be content with it. Of far greater significance and longevity is with whom I spend my days and with whom I rest my homeless head at night. The issue of where is mostly irrelevant.

But the term homeless is an abstract idea, as the late comedian George Carlin frequently noted. What these people lack isn’t a home, but a house. And I agree. A home can be anywhere one feels comfortable; a house is simply the structure in which one frequently resides. Are tents not houses? What about yurts, or caves, or cardboard boxes? If I am comfortable with where I am and who I am with, then I am not homeless, but merely houseless. I suppose I will amend my ten-year prediction to houseless, not homeless.

In the Leonard Cohen’s now-famous song, “The Partisan,” a particularly powerful stanza reads, “I have changed my name so often; I have lost my wife and children, but I have many friends. And some of them are with me.” While the song pertains to the French resistance during World War II, the statement remains universally applicable: things have not gone as planned, I have lost much that is important to me, but I find great comfort in WHO remains with me still. It is optimism in the face of terrible and tragic hardship. I don’t anticipate such trials, but I do anticipate things not going as planned, and learning to find joy in my circumstances regardless.

I am unable to predict the future, and it would be an utter waste of time to even bother to try. But I am eager to see who I will meet and who will be with me on whatever crazy adventure I should find. Strange things happen in my life, and I’m learning to be okay with it. I’m not particularly concerned with where I sleep, because there are plenty of people silly enough to give me shelter for a few nights. If they food and water me, it could be many nights. I’m more excited about the people.

I may never get my Tuscan house overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, or my cabin on a ranch in northwest Colorado, but those are still good dreams. I’d rather know the people. I can’t truly enjoy an adventure if I’m the only one who experienced it. There can be no mutual reminiscence, no shared jokes, sunsets, exotic meals or chance encounters with interesting people. It will amount to little besides fodder for further writing. I want to meet the people; maybe even the pretty girl in my dreams with the long hair and dark eyes. She’s out there somewhere, and so are many other friends.

If I’m homeless (or houseless), there has to be an interesting reason for it, and I imagine it will be quite an adventure that got me there. So, whether I am huddled inside a rain-soaked box, trying to find the driest corner of a yurt, or listening to road noise under my bridge, I will always have pen and paper, and I will be furiously jotting down what undoubtedly is a fascinating story. My friends with me will be in there, too. In fact, they will actually MAKE the story, which won’t be mine, but ours.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. If this were on Facebook. I would click the "like" button!

  2. This is not the Ben Shaw I knew 8 years ago. You're on a good journey, keep God on it with you and it will be a GREAT journey.
    "Make your home in me, as I make mine in you" John 15:4

  3. This is exactly the Ben Shaw I have known since he was born. He is willful. He is headstrong and he will prevail.

  4. So is a house a home to you even if you aren't rubbing cat hair out of your eyes or trying to sleep through popcorn in the microwave at 3am? I decided this weekend that it still is for me.