Waiting to inhabit

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August 13, 2002 // UPDATED 1:29 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Julie Landsman
Julie Landsman

One person, kept rootless by bureaucracy, thinks of those whose frustrations are worse

Here I sit in my temporary house in Falcon Heights, soon to move to another temporary arrangement Downtown and, finally, into our condo on Washington Avenue North. Last month, we moved out of our house of 25 years, having sold too soon. We did not know how long city inspectors would take to approve our condo building's access, parking ramps, elevators, etc. After three approvals by various inspectors, a fourth decided that access to the gas in each condo was not up to code.

So I sit, waiting in a room full of plants, recovering from cancer surgery (an added glitch in this moving experience). Having been given a wonderful and optimistic prognosis after the pathology work, I know this inconvenience is simply a minor event in the spectrum of my life.

Yet, it is still difficult. There is a certain sweater I would like to wrap around me when the evening cools down, for the length of its arms are the length of my father's arms, a sweater I took from his Connecticut house after he died. I have a purple coffee mug a friend gave me 15 years ago when I worked at North High. That mug started all my days since, and it would help to feel the continuity between before and after cancer by drinking from that gorgeous color now. Also, I miss my music. I forgot to bring Miles Davis with me and know that the clarity and bittersweet chords of "Sketches of Spain" would work beautifully right now.

It is at this time --when I am schlepping from home to home, without the intricate web of particular things I weave around my life to hold me, centered, in an erratic world -- when I finally grasp the human toll, the particular lives that are affected by political maneuvering.

I have always been cynical about the possibility of change in bureaucracies, having worked for the Minneapolis Public Schools for 25 years. Yet now that I am experiencing the consequences of a fragmented system, I feel an urgency to promote change that is more personal than my previous, more abstract activism.

I appreciate the anger of those on welfare, those needing food stamps, those trying to get medical help. I can guess at the frustration of a woman struggling to find bus connections to the clinic that is a long distance away, the only one that will take her son for his seizures. Now, I appreciate the web of systems, protocols and documents that immigrant men or women must maneuver through as they try to create a life here in our cities. I am not equating my easy middle-class existence with theirs, but rather, I have become more amazed at the way anyone new to a city, to a country, creates a home here, a pattern, a familiar morning.

I read once that even in homeless shelters, children and parents bring along certain objects, pictures, toys and icons and arrange them in a corner of the one room where the family stays. This they see as their space, a part of the world particular to them, perhaps inhabited by a certain purple mug, a picture of their father before he died, a bit of music that captures melancholy. This homing instinct must be true for all of us -- the homeless, and those waiting for a home we know we will have soon.

Ultimately, I feel lucky. I know where I will live in a month, know I will find my old sweater with the long arms, my books of poetry, my Miles Davis. If this delay has been difficult for me, though, with all my privilege and ease, I know it has been a nightmare for others, dealing with fear, anxiety and autumn coming on, with no money for heat.

Would that those in power understood this, the details of the lives that are changed by their actions. Would that our mayors, councilpersons, builders, inspectors, administrators, civil servants struggled to find ways to move plans along. Would that they understood how their individual jealousies, egos, spats, affect us all: from the woman trying to find food for her nephew who has come to live with her, to me, drifting from unfamiliar neighborhood to unfamiliar neighborhood, trying to find comfort and consistency in a life suddenly redefined by its new fragility.