It happened again.
I was part of a small group sitting around a kitchen table, drinking tea and conversing. One woman was being quite difficult. She was older than I am by about 20 years and tried to dominate the conversation, no matter the topic. She tried to present herself as an authority on New Orleans because as a teenager, she’d lived for some time in a town 25 miles away. Even though I lived in New Orleans for nearly a decade and her feet hadn’t touched the city’s soil in over forty years, she wanted to present herself as the expert.
The five of us in the room talked about where we’d grown up. I talked about my job as a camp host. The difficult woman asked me, Where do you live now?
I answered in a perfectly cheerful way, I live in my van.
I saw the panic on her face and heard it in her voice when she asked, But where do you live?
I said again, I live in my van, then went on to explain I don’t have a sticks and bricks house waiting anywhere for me.
I could tell she felt pity for me, which is not what I expected from her, since I knew she lives in a 5th wheel with multiple cats.
I think the woman was worried about me because she is worried about herself.
Later in the conversation around the table, the woman admitted she’s not entirely happy about living in the 5th wheel. She doesn’t see the 5th wheel or its current location as the home she wants for the rest of her life. She want’s something bigger, something “better,” something different. I suspect she wondered how I could be happy living in a van if she’s not quite happy where she lives.
As the five of us stood up to say good-bye before parting, the difficult woman singled me out and hurriedly told me in a voice barely above a whisper how some years back she lived in her car with her dog. I could tell this part of her history was not something she remembered fondly or spoke of proudly.
I assured her many people have lived or currently live in a vehicle. I wanted her to know that living in a vehicle is not as weird as she’d convinced herself it is.
I refuse to be ashamed for living in my van, I told her.
I hope she will let go of her shame too, because if isn’t doing her any good.
I told her I don’t know if I could ever go back to living in a conventional home, as I now find the thought of paying rent for a house or an apartment offensive.
Sometimes I’m glad I can be an example of a woman living a good life while housed in her van. Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel as if I have to explain my existence to every curious or worried person who crosses my path. On the day with the difficult woman, I felt something in between. I hadn’t expected or wanted to talk with someone who was shocked by the way I live, but I did enjoy disabusing her of some of the notions she seemed to be holding about people who live in vehicles.
Some people are better at adapting than others. There was probably a time when you never would have thought of living in a vehicle. But when the time did arrive, you stepped right up and embraced it as something that was Better than your other options, not Worse.
But other people cannot seem to find it in themselves how to readjust, either in their actions or in their thinking. When my father lost his sight, he drank and sat in a chair until he fell out of the chair. The blind man at the other end of his street decided to learn how to play the piano. As Darwin said, it’s a matter of adapt or die.
Many people are intensely affected (or controlled) by what other people think. Or what they think they think. They will agonize over an offhand remark that someone made without thinking it through or knowing the full circumstances. It’s like they can’t live their life for themselves because they’re controlled by other people, like robots. They’re jerked back and forth, trying to do what everyone else thinks, because they don’t seem to have any faith in their own thinking and decisions. But it’s hard to go 25 directions at the same time.
And it’s sad to see that, but you can’t control other people’s thinking and responses. If they can’t find it in themselves to be satisfied with their own decisions, you can’t do it for them.
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