It is raining today. The tropical storm that is sweeping up the eastern shore bears with it the weather of change.
I feel strangely at home in the rain. And lately, though I never thought I would say it, I feel strangely at home with change.
Dewey, thank you for helping me refine my use of these familiar words. You are right that I have lived with them so intimately and so long that I find it difficult to separate them out from the substance of my life.
I thought about this question of meanings over the weekend. Today I want to try and answer some questions. But first, if it's all right, I would like to expand just a little on our definitions.
Thanks to this welcome exercise, I have come to see that what I call the Innermost Life is a hidden place at the heart of life which has to me the defining character of reconstituting the world upside-down and outside-in.
What I mean is that the life we gained at Innermost House was something actually very different from anything we could have arrived at merely by elimination and simplification. We did eliminate and simplify, certainly, until we finally moved to Europe with only a suitcase apiece of belongings.
It was only after two years of belonginglessness that we received the invitation that would become Innermost House. So that the house itself was, in every way, not an elimination but an addition to what we had. And in building it we found ourselves, step by step, reconstituting the world we had left behind, but with a difference.
The difference took us by surprise. There it all was—the world both we and our guests recognized—but somehow so constituted as to reverse all the relationships of ordinary life. Little became large, lowly became high, less became more, last became first, and outside became inside.
The very elements most conspicuous and honored of the world became the leastmost, hiddenmost things in Innermost House. The world did not go away there. It was turned inside out. And that inside-outness, whatever it is, is what I call the Innermost Life. I think I'll leave refining the definitions to you Dewey!
Let's go back to your comments. You raise an important question about which I think much has been misunderstood—the economics of Innermost House. This is a good time at least to begin to try to understand it.
I'm afraid I am the last person to talk about economics! I can't even dependably balance a checkbook. But I have been through this so many times that I have acquired a feeling for it, and I want to share with you what I hope will be words of encouragement.
Getting all the way to Innermost House took us a long time. There were very many steps and stages along the way. At every stage we were somewhere, and at every next stage we were further on. It is true that in the end it had a kind of all-or-nothing, here-or-nowhere feeling about it, but I can see now that every step we took made the next step possible, and all were necessary.
We had some advantages. I will mention three of the most important ones because I believe I recognize the same ones in you. First and most important of all, we were on fire. I don't mean we were determined or committed, I mean we were on fire. That is different. When you are on fire you can do things that otherwise just never seem necessary enough to be possible.
If sometimes you feel a little "grumpy" maybe that is why. Maybe you are just feeling a little singed around the edges. I know that feeling.
And like you, we had a high expectation of life. My expectation was something that had haunted me through every day of my life from childhood. I could not justify it and I could not explain it. I still cannot. I think people come by it in different ways. As you say, some acquire it through formal education.
But whatever it is and however you came by it, it always made the actual world incomprehensible and unacceptable to me. And alone I could do nothing at all about it. I was stuck with it. My husband was the first person I had ever met who could do something about it.
And then, in a way that was most unwelcome to me at the time, but to which I look back with gratitude, we began our married life very deep in debt. My husband was more idealistic than realistic in those early days, and he set off on his own with no capital and too little worldly experience to build an ideal village to solve the problem of Place in America, and of course he failed.
But in that failure lay the seeds of all our success at last. For against the advice of those who wished us well, he assumed the debts of the venture personally, and we were thirteen years paying it all off. I thought it would never, ever end. But that made no difference to him. Our years of living in one tiny rental after another while he worked hard only to pay almost everything we made away to debt formed us toward the Innermost Life.
So it was inward fire, outward debt, and a high expectation of life—all these pressures together at once—that made it possible for us to break through over time. In my experience at least, those are inestimable advantages, not disadvantages, in the pursuit of the Innermost Life. Perhaps you are closer than you think!
There are a few particular points I want to address. We did certainly meet some very interesting people around the fire, but we have always been fortunate to know interesting people, I think perhaps because we are interested in them. Still those seven years were lived very largely in solitude, and we often passed weeks at a time without receiving a guest.
Michael has always supported us solely with his work in the design fields, nothing else. People who came for his Conversation believed they had finally found in him “the real thing,” and as one regular guest said, they “would not think of touching Michael with money.” I will not say that this was not sometimes a little inconvenient!
Through our years at Innermost House our needs were so exceedingly few that Michael would go months without visiting clients, and they were willing to wait for him. Of course both before and since that time he has been more active in his work, but our Conversation has always been the highest priority of our life.
I think my grasp of modern America has not so much evaporated as it never materialized in the first place! I have always found the modern world incomprehensible in its motives and in its means. I cannot walk down Main Street without encountering a hundred occasions for wonderment. Why would anyone do that? Why would anyone want that? Why would anyone be that? And I'm sure the world looks back at me and asks the same questions.
As for children and schools, health insurance and hospitals, we have mostly gone without them. That is too high a price for many to pay, I understand, but every expression of what I now recognize to be the monastic instinct requires similar renunciations.
Still, one has responsibilities. Ours were to Michael's parents, whom we helped support each month of the last fifteen years of their life. We lost them the year before Innermost House was built.
Al, you too have raised some important questions I want to try to answer, beginning with my unseen husband.
Let me say this much about Michael, who is the innermost dimension of my undivided Innermost Life. If his example has any meaning beyond our own circumstances, then it means that a man must sacrifice far more than a woman for this life. He must willingly surrender his pride, he must bury his powers in the heart of the earth, he must yield to the darkness and die to the world in a way a woman need not. I am not what he is. I could not have done what he did.
Nothing of the world magically melted away at Innermost House. The garden we do not tend, the animals we do not care for, the loads of laundry we do not do, the property tax we do not pay, all are the result of deliberate choices we have made on our way to the Innermost Life, and every one has cost us something else. We have both always been willing to pay. We have been glad to pay.
As you say, Reality keeps a ledger, and payments are due. That to me is the real meaning of economy. I have never liked fantasy, not even as a girl. I always wanted reality, if only I could find it midst the confusion of appearances. The Reality I found at Innermost House I loved with all my heart, even if I chose to leave it.
I am moving outward now in a new direction. My life is changing. Innermost House was the price I paid for this new life, and I would pay it over again for all I have since gained, most of all for the earnest Conversation I share here steadily with you.
I trust in what is happening. This too is Reality. I do not believe the world and the Innermost Life are irreconcilable at last. I think that is what we are all struggling toward together.
Leah and Pam, Bri and Sherry, we have this stormy week still to talk about your questions, and I look forward to it!