Gemütlichkeit is the best word I can find to describe my home. I have to go to a foreign language to properly describe what contemporary American culture is in the process of decimating in the same manner in which it has relegated many species to the edge of extinction. The house hunters come at people’s homes with hammers and saws and wrecking balls with the same enthusiasm and lack of compassion as trophy hunters in the game preserves of Africa or oil extractors in National Parks. Compassion and operating from the heart is seen as weakness since Orwellian doublespeak has taken over our public dialog. After all, who cares about some strange species of frog that teeters on the edge of extinction when there’s money to be made? Who cares about someone’s grandmother who clings to her last moment of independence and treasured memories when putting her in a sterile soulless cubical will expedite the process of flipping her house and adding numerous zeroes to the end of someone else’s bank account.
Gentrification is always seen as a positive magnanimous gesture by the gentrifiers. People who are unable to compete with the rapid changes are simply collateral damage. After all, America is about people pulling themselves up by their boot straps! Right? Is it the fault or responsibility of those in power to provide them with boots in the first place? Are we living by the law of the jungle?
My home was built in 1974. According to public records, a new two bedroom two bath home in Santa Rosa in 1974, cost between $35,000 and $40,000. Today that same home lists for $500,000. There are lots of cute little phrases that support this lunacy, like “location, location, location!” But from the view of the displaced, the reality is more in line with “save the best for the people with the most money!” Nobody ever talks about how these policies contribute to the stifling of diversity. It is just casually accepted that the lack of diversity in these communities is simply an accident of economics. Renters are often seen as something less than owners while overlooking the fact that the renter is actuality paying the mortgage for the owner.
The prospect of losing my home feels similar to an impending death in the family. The closer the concept comes to reality, the more difficult it becomes for me to process it. When I sit on my favorite chair watching movies, I often see my beloved dog Zoe out of the corner of my eye, lying on her blanket beside the coffee table. When I see the dining room table I remember every Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past 7 years. When I sit in the rocking chair looking into the guest bedroom, I remember every guest who came to share the treasures of Valley of the Moon. When I see the bright Antique Gold wall in the entrance hall, or the bright red kitchen walls, I remember listening to Abba as we painted them with the expectation that I may have found the place I would spend the rest of my life.
But when I think of losing this home, my stomach twists into knots and I remember the day after Zoe died when I didn’t want to come home, because I knew she wouldn’t be there when I opened the door. But now I’ve learned that she is here. There is a spirit in my home. Every outdated but still functional 1974 piece of hardware is infused with the energy of every living being who experienced love here. That’s why when I go to totally renovated homes I feel coldness and emptiness. That’s why when I lived in buildings that were hundreds of years old in Europe, I felt like I was a part of something important, with history and meaning!
I know there is a big possibility I will loose this battle. For the moment I just want it to last as long as it can. As I watch other renters pack up and move, or speak with other renters who are on the edge, I realize the cards are stacked against us. When I get up to a smoky sunrise like today, I remember last October and how, through all those difficult days of evacuation, we were all equal. We were all beating through the same heart, giving through unquestioned compassion. In all those days of wondering if we still had homes to come back to, we all assessed the real worth of so called material things. We came to understand that they are all simply conduits to loving memories. They have life and spirit as long as we are able to come together with them to remember. We have all said, “thank God we still have our lives.” But that does not diminish the grief, the pain of loss and the fear that we will one day forget important memories without our important things reminding us.
The fire last October was totally undiscriminating.
The same cannot be said of our unforgiving post-fire economy.