Lucy and I just got finished walking a couple of miles in our neighborhood. It’s a beautiful night — unseasonably warm at 69 degrees and strong winds that hint of the storms heading our way Thursday.
Next month will complete my fourth year in this neighborhood. As I walked tonight, I found myself thinking about my first reaction to this place. At the time, I was in a serious financial crisis and I was losing the home where I had lived for 20 years. It was a much nicer place in a much more prestigious neighborhood.
When I first drove by this house to check it out, I turned up my nose at it. Surely, I was too good for this sort of neighborhood.
That’s not what I actually said to myself, of course, but that’s what I really meant. And as I walked through this working class neighborhood a few minutes ago — a stone’s throw from the high school baseball game from which I could hear cheering — I found myself remembering my silent judgment of another man’s home 20 years ago.
He was someone I met in political circles when I was working as a political consultant. Almost everybody in those groups either lived in upper class neighborhoods or else took pains to hide the shame of not yet having moved up in the world.
But this guy was different. He lived in a mobile home. A trailer. “Manufactured housing.” Whatever you want to call it. I don’t believe I’ve ever known anyone — not personally, at least — who lived in such a place. And he wasn’t the least bit embarrassed about it. He didn’t hide it.
I remember when a mutual friend told me where he lived. This friend was making fun of the guy. Soon, I was, too. I’m embarrassed to admit this now, because it reveals just how much I had allowed myself to feel pride and false superiority about something so ridiculous.
I heard him explain to someone that since he wasn’t married yet, living in the trailer allowed him to save money instead of consuming all that he made. He wasn’t bragging. He wasn’t ashamed. It was just a matter-of-fact thing to him, because it made sense for where he was in the world.
I still judged him, mostly silently, because I had a lot of prejudice about “trailer trash,” so I allowed myself to feel superior.
He became very successful and married a woman who was also very successful. With the money he had saved, they bought a nice house. I haven’t kept up with them. In fact, I hadn’t thought about him for a long time — until my walk tonight.
I bought a cheap foreclosure in a lower middle-class neighborhood four years ago, because it was all I could afford to buy. I knew it wasn’t a place into which I would want to move a wife and family. But for me — and a houseful of furry creatures — it was perfectly good enough.
I didn’t move here because I had a brilliant plan to save money. In fact, I had to swallow my pride to accept this. Four years later, I realize it was the smartest thing I could have done — even if my pride made it hard for me to accept the move down in the world.
This neighborhood was build in the early 20th century as a working-class community near railroad tracks and factories. The factories are mostly gone. The railroads are still there.
My house was built in 1928. (That’s a picture of it above.) It’s less than a thousand square feet. It still needs upgrades that I haven’t spent the money for. It’s the most modest home in which I’ve ever lived, except for a couple of dumps where I lived in college. But I have great neighbors and it’s been a great place for me to live cheaply while I slowly started putting my life back in order.
I don’t remember whether I’ve ever told you about my favorite neighbor, a retired teacher named Cora who lives across the street. She left me this sweet and loving card — along with a Walmart gift card — about six weeks ago, but I don’t even know what she was thanking me for. I think she just wanted an excuse to do something nice for me. It’s really great to have such a wonderful neighbor. How could I regret living in a place with that sort of loving neighbor?
I still wouldn’t want to move a wife here or bring children to grow up here. But I’ll always appreciate the refuge it’s been when I needed one.
My life is much better than it was four years ago and it’s getting better. Just today, I was talking with someone about a major opportunity that he’s giving me about eight months from now. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m on a realistic path back to serious prosperity.
When I first came to this neighborhood to look around, I was disdainful — in much the same way I was disdainful about finding out that a political associate lived in a trailer. In both cases, it was my ridiculous pride which made me feel that I was too good for something — and in both cases, I was wrong.
I rarely learn anything useful about myself from my successes. When I do good things and I get praise and rewards, it puffs up my pride and I can be a little full of myself.
I hate the situation that I put myself into about eight or nine years ago which turned into a long downward spiral. I hate that I felt like such a failure for awhile. But I like some of the lessons I’ve learned about life and about myself along the way.
Shortsighted people will judge you if you don’t live up to their prideful and egotistical standards, just as I judged that guy who lived in the trailer years ago. If you’re smart, you’ll learn to ignore their judgment and do the things that are right for you.
And if you’re wise — wiser than I was — you’ll learn that you can live in dignity and grace wherever life takes you.
You can be as successful as you want to be, even if life brings you somewhere less-than-impressive while you’re on that long journey which is full of hard lessons.