Space of being

As guests descend, we realise that we have a space problem. The extension at the back, usually my home office, transforms into a spare room, a double bed folding down from the wall.

The dining room table, at which I normally work, slides through to the other room, the door temporarily removed from its hinges to grant safe passage.

When our beloved grandmother passed away a decade ago, our house just ten miles away from her, we inherited that table, two of her armchairs and our small kitchen table. Even then, we knew we really didn’t have space for them, but it was our way of allowing her to live on in our lives.

Our house is filled of other people’s cast offs. Some belonged to my brother, hastily rehomed just before he went overseas. The most recent of them to my parents when they downsized and moved south. Most of them are not well suited to our little house; we have not lived as the rest of my family have.

Our daughter complains about the big heavy bookshelves, skinned in a mahogany veneer. They take up too much space, she tells us and are way too dark. “Why did your parents buy such dark furniture?” she begs.

I have to explain that I was raised in a very large house, with big rooms and ample light. These bookshelves would have sat either side of the fireplace in the back room of our house, its floorspace nearly as great as our entire downstairs here.

“What about these sofas?” she demands, pointing at the cushions beneath her, “You chose these!”

They were what were available at the time, I tell her, but she just shakes her head, wincing. She’s been to her friends’ homes and has seen their comfy sofa suites. I’d like to replace them too, when the time’s right, especially since their trampolining in earlier years have destroyed the springs within.

“Maybe your friends got them on credit,” I shrug. “We dont do that. We save and buy what we can afford. You have to understand, we weren’t wealthy then.”

My wife chips in. “It’s true. We were paying off the house. We were living off one salary. The other one went straight to repay our debt in full. We had windows to do. Central heating.”

The kids know I was raised amidst great wealth, so this is all a bit hard to understand. Frequently they opine that their grandpa must be very rich, given that he sent his four children to private school and now lives in a grand apartment in the heart of one of England’s most sought after locations.

“That was his rizq (provision),” I tell them. “This is ours.”

“A tiny house filled with second-hand furniture!” they scoff.

Alhamdulilah!” says my wife, smiling. “I love my humble home. How fortunate we are. Some people can’t even afford a place of their own.”

This is the reasoning we tell ourselves, shifting furniture around to accommodate guests. Space is a problem, but it’s not insurmountable. Just a minor inconvenience.

The kids have to be reminded that they have another place over there, much more spacious, that will be available to them any time, once we’ve got through their education.

But that’s just more of the same: we built what we could afford, just in time before inflation spiralled out of control. Two years on and it would be impossible to start. The kids have to be reminded of the ramshackle building that preceded it, which they once loved but then came to hate.

Even if man was granted a valley of gold, goes the saying, he would still demand another one. And how true that is, for we never seem content with our blessings. For the kids, our house may be too small, but my wife and I recall what preceded it, living in an even tinier one bedroom flat for the first four years of marriage in west London. And I recall the cramped bedsit I was living in before that.

So it is that we remind ourselves to be not just content with what we have, but grateful too. Whatever our constraints, it is home. We sacrificed a large spacious apartment over there for the sake of togetherness and our children’s education. In material possessions, that was the high life. But without each other, it was no home.

The kids, I hope, will come to appreciate that in the fulness of time, as they go out into the world. If we get to realise our dreams of living off our land over there, I hope they will be content to discover they have a home here all set up for them within easy reach of jobs and airports.

I hope they will realise then that the space we made was for love and care. A space of being. We opened our hearts for these little ones, and let them grow within. This, the real space in our lives.

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