Recently we had an overnight guest, a friend of Don's who stops by about twice a year while traveling between Oregon and Wyoming. I'll call him John.
This particular visit wasn't a "travel-through" visit as it normally is. His job sometimes stations him in various places, and for the last two months he's been living out of a motel in Montana. Needing a change of scenery from four motel-room walls, he decided to come stay the night and get a couple of home-cooked meals.
John is a few years younger than us, and single. He had a "relationship" a few years ago that didn't work out. Because he has no domestic ties, he's able to travel for his job. He's a big teddy-bear of a fellow who dwarfs me (I'm short) and his visits are always pleasant. He willingly throws himself into any project we're doing, such as last fall when he helped Don put up the metal roofing on our barn awning.
John has watched our slow-but-steady progress in building up our farm over the last few years, so we toured him around and showed him the things we've done since his last visit. We showed him the half-grown chicks in the coop. We showed him around the garden, where Don's irrigation system is making watering a breeze. We showed him how we're rotating the livestock around the pastures. We showed him the freezer full of beef from our last butchering. Everywhere we went, he expressed admiration for what we've accomplished. We sat down to dinner, then he and Don stayed up late talking.
John is an ideal house guest. He's considerate, grateful for small favors such as a meal or a clean bed, forgiving of dust in the corners, gets along splendidly with the dogs, and doesn't expect to be entertained. If we're busy with something, he'll take a book and read. At one point Don was involved with a neighbor who was bringing in some hay, so John sat quietly reading in the living room. I finished with whatever task I was doing, took a book, and joined him. We sat in companionable silence for about twenty minutes, just reading.
John only stayed overnight and left the next day. But there was something different about this visit. After we wished him well on the road and he drove off, that "something" kept preying on my mind. It finally dawned on me what it was: Domestic envy.
The poor man was envious of what Don and I have built and created out here on the prairie. He's also lonely. It's not that he necessarily longs for a homestead with cattle and a garden. What he longs for is the domestic tranquility we've achieved.
For even the most footloose and fancy-free person, there comes a point when the lure of domestic life creeps in. John has reached that point. He wants a wife and family. He wants the quiet day-to-day sameness that Don and I thrive on. He wants... well, domestic tranquility.
It's not that Don and I have a marriage or family life that are anything special. But neither is food anything special -- until you're hungry. We don't have dazzling important-sounding careers that will impress people at cocktail parties, but we're busy and happy and content. John is hungry for the things we have that he lacks -- a solid marriage and the blessings of a happy home life.
A couple days after John left, an acquaintance stopped by to see the garden. She, too, expressed admiration for what we’ve done in the last few years. But her praise held a note of bitterness because, I found out, she had many similar accomplishments -- large garden, livestock, canning, etc. -- but was in the process of losing it all.
It seems she is involved in an ongoing and nasty divorce. I didn't really want to hear all the details, but sometimes being a listener is necessary, and in this situation it was necessary.
After the woman left, I went inside and thanked Don for being the loyal, loving, faithful man he is. And I realized how much more we can accomplish in life when we're holding hands, facing forward, and working together toward goals, rather than tearing each other down, sniping apart each others' dignity and egos, and fighting against each other so nothing gets done. For this poor woman, she is starting her life over, both emotionally and materially.
So in the space of a few days, I saw both ends of the bell curve. On one side was a gentleman for whom the blessings of domestic tranquility has so far eluded. On the other side was a woman who desperately tried to find that domestic tranquility and instead found bitter feuding.
Don't ever dismiss the deep-seated desire for a stable, happy home life. It's a blessing for those who have it. For those who don't, it leaves a "home-shaped hole" in their heart.
Or, as reader "Montana Guy" remarked on my blog post on nesting bluebirds, "Isn't it refreshing to see two-parent families working together?"
I am grateful to Don for partnering with me to provide us and our girls with domestic tranquility. It's something we take for granted until we come face-to-face with those who don't have it. I dearly hope that these two people -- John and my other acquaintance -- are able to find some of their own.