Autumn is a strange time for new beginnings, with the leaves falling thick around my ankles, the boxes clearing out of the house. We have begun to find some rhythms in this new house, this new life. Most days see many of on Zoom calls and working by day, sharing our communal dinners by night. But here, the biggest regularity is the irregularity of it all. Sometimes we have card games and laughter until too late. One night there was a dance party. Some nights people work through dinner and fall into bed or wake in the middle of the night for a work call or an airplane. There have been dinners for twelve, for eight, for six, for four. This place inhales and exhales as people come and go, virtually never the same set faces around the big old dining room table.
And I am inhaling and exhaling too here in our new home. Sometimes I sit at the desk in my bedroom and watch the leaves blow off the trees. While I’m sad to see these lovely colors go, I wonder what will be revealed by my first leafless winter. What does it mean to create a new life where change is the core feature? Generally, I have thought of “home” as a stable force, a solid container that we arrange to our liking and then live inside. It’s the life that is in motion, not the container. But this life container we’re creating here is much more supple and changing than that.
And so it seems to be with the change in my parenting, too. Aidan is here this week, spending his reading week in this first semester of grad school in this big old house, staring out his window while struggling with the ideas of some of the world’s most challenging philosophers. Soon he’ll leave again and the nest—this new nest—will empty of our children. Then it will be Thanksgiving and Naomi will fly in. And then Christmas will come and my children and the children of the other dreamers here will fill up our big home. I had imagined the empty nest as a more stable phenomenon, the children all grown up and on their own in other parts of the world. But we inhale and exhale together, breath after breath in the new rhythms of this chapter, in the new spaces of this gracious home.
All my life I have been drawn to the idea of a watering hole. While I’ve never been to Africa, the image of the diversity of life drawn to clean water has long been a metaphor that has shaped my work and my life. I tried to create our house as a watering hole for our kids’ friends when they were small, adding temptations like a ping pong table or a hot tub to draw the young people to spend time at our place. I think of this in the organisations I’ve helped to found, too—how do we create the conditions for people to want to gather together, to bump into each other, to have unexpected surprises that create new ideas or practices or friendships? We have designed the Growth Edge Network this way, have designed Cultivating Leadership this way.
But this is the biggest watering hole experiment I’ve ever tried. We have pitched our tents alongside this watering hole, and it is now our home. “Would you call this a safe-to-fail experiment?” one of my clients asked me. “Or does it not count as “safe-to-fail” if you moved all of your things there and call it home?” We laughed together at the question, but the musing lingers: What does it mean to have home as experiment? Home as watering hole? Home as patterned by change?
I suppose my home has always been a place of constant change, kids growing, health varying, the tide coming in and out. But now maybe, like so many things in middle age, it feels faster, these changes. Perhaps I’m more alert to the falling leaves because I know that each one of them—like each one of us—is mortal. We have only one long season to bud and green and yellow and fall. And so perhaps it makes sense that the constant change of life is more manifest now, that we have created a more elastic container for the changes that mimic our mortality.
If every day is different, today it is quiet. Our table will exhale to four for a few days, then inhale to five, to six. Some nights I might find myself alone in these echoing hallways; some days I might have to hide in my bedroom from the masses of people wandering around. But, as the Buddhists teach us, each day is its own day, never to return. You love this day? I’m sorry, but it will pass. You hate the way it is today? Good news, it will pass. I wonder if I will feel more grounded in the present now, in the swirl of constant change. I wonder whether the inhaling and exhaling of this life, like the inhaling and exhaling of my own breath, will eventually hold me more deeply in the present moment, the only constant in the changing swirl of life.