August 10, 2015
When we go out into the world we take on the role of our profession—a teacher, a chef, a manager—and in this way we specialize. Our encounters with others are, in large part, shaped by these roles. When we leave the work world at the end of the day or during our “time off,” we let something go as we cross the threshold of our front doors. Letting go of these roles, we no longer define ourselves by what we do.
“Out there,” in the world, you may be a teacher or a cook or a manager, but “in here,” in the home, you are simply and completely a person: one who teaches, who cooks, who manages. You are a person who lives. On one hand, when we enter the home we retreat from the world and we pull ourselves in. On the other, we expand, leaving behind our one, narrow role in the world in order to take up the work of the entire human person. That is the art of living.
What is the “role” of the homemaker? We cannot say because every type of work happens in the home, and the homemaker must be a master of every craft. They nurture, cook, and manage accounts of course. But they need not be a teacher and chef and manager. The role is, rather, to make possible this space for the art of living.
Our homes in the village and at Beaver Farm vary, coming in all shapes and sizes, all colors and tones. One child may love to paint or need a chair that sits lower to the ground. A coworker may aspire to play piano or need a cup (or three) of coffee right after lunch, without fail. Some of us enjoy relaxing with others, and some may need time and space to reflect in solitude. We all need clothes that keep us warm, rooms where we can breathe, and meals that will nourish us.
The homemaker makes space for these manifold needs, gifts, and strivings. In this regard they never work alone. Making space is always making space together, therefore no two homes are ever the same: the people—the real, individual, and entire persons—who live and work together give the home its personality by developing their own. The role of the homemaker is to make space for these emerging personalities to grow and live in harmony.
I am a novice in the world of homemaking. Perhaps the only reason I could write these words, rather than someone more experienced, is that real homemakers are simply too busy! I am certainly not, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any homemaker (experienced or not) who would claim to be, a “master” of their art. How is someone supposed to be a professional human being, a specialist in generalities? As far as balance and harmony go, well, I’m more prone to stumbling and singing off-key. And yet, for someone as scattered as I am, learning the task of homemaking is a healing experience.
Homemaking requires one to have a broad view, taking into account of all aspects of human life—body, soul, and spirit. But we cannot do this in broad strokes. Dust builds up behind cupboards, cobwebs creep into corners, and we perpetual search for that one missing sock. Despite a closet overflowing with bed linens, there never seems to be a sheet that fits when needed.
This devotion to the small thing, and the humility necessary to get down on your knees and scrub jam out of creaky floorboards, is the gesture of homemaking. Here, the entire human person lives, from the heights of our ideals and strivings, down to the depths of our messy eating habits and crankiness before eight in the morning. It is a healing art; it makes the art of living possible and requires that we recognize and support one another’s needs and gifts every day. Learning this art is a privilege, and slowly—day by day, laundry basket by laundry basket—I am learning more than a set of marketable skills. I am learning not only how to live, but how to live together.
By Libby Sanders