If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. Mother Teresa

We Belong to Each OtherI’m a particular admirer of Mother Teresa of Calcutta because my beloved daughter joined our family from the Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Calcutta. At first Jessie didn’t speak English, but she did know a few words. One of them was Mother. Of course at the time she meant Mother Teresa, not me. Not yet. It was always so special when she glimpsed Mother Teresa on television. Clearly she’d seen her in person, too, and loved her unconditionally.

I love this quote, don’t you? We’ve forgotten we belong to each other. And so often we do.

The Color of Light, fourth book in the Goddesses Anonymous series, came out yesterday. The reviews are good, which delights me. But the theme of The Color of Light can be summed up by Mother Teresa’s quote. Among other things, this is the story of a church that has to learn this particular truth, as we all do. We belong to each other. And with that intimate kinship, comes responsibilities.

I’m often asked why I choose a particular issue for my Goddesses novels. I never choose an issue, then think of a story to go with it. In fact I never choose an issue. Issues choose me. They present themselves as I write and insinuate themselves into my plot. Always.

This time, though, the issue of homelessness is personal.

When I was in seventh grade we lost our home. My father may have been good at what he did, but he was a bad businessman. The bills finally caught up with him. The IRS caught up with him. The house went in payment for a copious amount of debt.

Like the Fowlers, in The Color of Light, we went to live with relatives. Mine was my grandmother, who lived just blocks away. Unlike Shiloh I didn’t have to change schools or help my parents search for work in other states. My father’s business didn’t fail. He continued working. The money he earned continued to go other mysterious places. But we  never again owned our own home. I shared a small room with my grandmother who visited other family as often as she could to give us privacy.

My family was never counted as homeless. We had a roof over our heads and food on our table. I graduated from the same high school I would have graduated from had things been different. But I remember clearly how it felt to be dispossessed. My grandmother was generous and loving. She did everything she could to make us feel like her home was ours. But the furniture, the utensils, the blankets on the beds? They belonged to her. The house was tiny, her retirement cottage, and we were interlopers for the five years we lived there.

I ask myself now what would have happened if she hadn’t been there. So many suffer so much more than I did. But I remember well that desolate feeling of belonging nowhere, of mourning the good life we’d lost, of counting the moments until I could go out into the world on my own and make a real home.

You see? I understood Shiloh Fowler from the inside out.

We do belong to each other. Homelessness is not a problem easily solved, but it is easy to become homeless. Statistically many people are only a paycheck or two away. Can’t pay your rent or mortgage this month because you have other bills? Try that a few times and let’s hope you have a relative or friend to take you in. A child develops an illness that your insurance doesn’t quite cover? The wage earner in your family loses a job through no fault of his or her own?

My grandmother reached out to us. We belonged to her and she to us. We were lucky.

Who belongs to you? Who belongs to me?

Worried this book is dark and joyless? Let me give away the ending, so you won’t worry needlessly. The truth is really so simple. If we extend our hands to others who needs us? Suddenly we belong to each other.

And what a joy that can be.

9 Comments

  1. Iris November on July 29, 2015 at 3:23 am

    Thank you for sharing your story of your early life. I do understand how comforting it is to be surrounded by loving family though the circumstances and reality are so challenging. My dear husband just died and the hole in my heart will be there– and the people who surround me understand that, while they wrap me in their love and concern. You are very special!!!

    • Emilie Richards on July 29, 2015 at 9:05 am

      Iris, you know how sorry I am. Both you and Mort have done so much for others. His passing will be greatly mourned.

  2. Kathy on July 29, 2015 at 8:34 am

    Profound thoughts…peace, security – there are no magic answers but hopefully someone will be there to help. Thanks!

  3. Kay Myhrman-Toso on July 29, 2015 at 8:53 am

    Deeply moving reflection – I’m dabbing at my tears as I type. Thank you for sharing your personal connections, both in Jessie’s story and your own time of uncounted homelessness. While I’ve never experienced homelessness personally, I do remember the time my dad lost his job, and what it felt like to receive “commodities”. I also remember relatives living with us, when they were without homes. You are so right, Emilie. So many of us have forgotten, both individually and collectively, that we belong to each other.

    • Emilie Richards on July 29, 2015 at 9:07 am

      Kay, thank you for sharing this. I suspect many of us have had personal experiences with homelessness or the homeless and I hope people will hold these in their hearts as the read the story of the Fowler family. They aren’t the other. They are us.

  4. jean maxwell on July 29, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Excellent conversation and prayer fodder. I grew up with parents who lived within their means.

    Later, I struggled to get through college and an advanced degree. One of my parents’ rental houses was taken away from me for my sister. Then, I stayed at my grandfather’s house until the city exercised imminent domain and was without secure housing. Finally, rented lodging from divorced classmate until I found a trailer.

    I been food insecure living on $43.20 a month. So I often give time, food, and money so the hungry have food.

    My life has been very blessed. But, so many aren’t learning rental to own is not like layaway. The cost of a T.V. can be more than a used car. Payday loans charge very outlandish interest rates. (200%) or more. A local loan office did incomes taxes this year. They charged the
    the poorest people for simple returns, $250.00.

    We need to be more honest in our dealings and save more. The big thing is knowing wants from needs.

    • Emilie Richards on July 30, 2015 at 7:01 am

      You’ve learned the hard way to be careful with money, and the way you’re giving back is admirable. You’re right, too, about the extra charges people have to face if they’re going through tough times. Grocery stores in poor neighborhoods jack up prices and don’t stock healthy food, interest rates go up. As if people don’t have enough to worry about.

  5. Joni on July 29, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    I have been So fortunate thru the years that we never were homeless never even late on a payment but we had purchased out first house & 9 months later I had my first baby my husband lost his job! Without my grandparents help who gave me $400.00 every other month for a couple of months we would have been down and out! I will never forget the generosity of my grandparents!!! Oh how I wish they were still alive!!

    • Emilie Richards on July 30, 2015 at 6:56 am

      I’m so glad they were there for you as you got back on your feet. Those of us who have family who can help are the lucky ones.

Leave a Comment