What home feels like.
One year ago, I was just beginning to unpack books from boxes, scattering them on the bookshelves my husband had assembled. The gray walls of our apartment were stark and dull—but window light speckled shadows across the walls’ surface like freckles.
This was home. But it felt very foreign at the time. Our 3rd floor apartment was bigger than a dorm room, but conveyed the same transitory feeling: the public courtyard at its feet, the door code one entered before clambering up three flights of stairs to the front door. I felt nervous about the wall color: the gray was lovely, but in its nakedness, it felt gloomy. Being so far up from the ground, I wondered if I would feel distant from nature, from the earth.
We sorted dishes and appliances, our treasure trove of wedding gifts. Most of what we owned was randomly thrown together from Craigslist, Ikea, and generous donations from family members. This was our first venture as a couple—our ragtag beginnings of adulthood.
But the months loomed long, as this place still felt strange to our home-aching feet. At the end of our workdays, we trudged up the 42 steps, plopped shoes at the front door, stuffed ourselves into the closet-sized kitchen. We broke in the wok and frying pans, let the smell of fresh bread and sizzling bacon perfume the space. We scrubbed stains off the counter, cleaned floors on our hands and knees. In November, my husband built us a table out of red oak: strong, simple, unstained. I put a bouquet of flowers on it, stood back. This was good.
We met the 3rd floor apartment owners living across from us. They were three friends from Ethiopia, cheery men who worked diligently, whose kitchen always wafted over the most glorious smells. They invited us over for an Ethiopian dinner, sat us at a candlelit table, and filled our stomachs to the bursting point with wonderful foods. After finally refusing another helping of dessert, I smiled and laughed. This, too, was good.
Yet the trudge from car to metro, metro to work, there and back again, took a toll on my heart, mind. I felt empty of human community—watched hundreds of people flock past and around me, averting gazes and avoiding touch. The silent darkness was overwhelming.
Then, one day, a friend brought me to a local coffee shop. We talked about work, church, and family over americanos and quiche. The place buzzed with local life: students hovering over computers, people perusing their newspapers, families with their strollers. The next week, I brought my husband back. I recognized the baristas, even some of the customers. The third time, my husband and I brought our brother and his girlfriend. On my fourth visit, the barista smiled at me, recognized me. I accepted a mug of coffee from her, smiled back. This was good.
And slowly, the fabric of community began to build around us. House, neighbors, community—the first stitches of a beautiful, fragile, eager emerging pattern. A year has passed, and our gray walls are dotted with paintings and prints, each with a history and memory. Our kitchen has brought forth gnocchi and stew, quiche and cookies for family and friends. Our table has hosted the finest guests—beloved family, friends from various branches of the government, brilliant think tank employees, diligent church members, loving mothers, energetic children.
When I walk up the 42 steps, slip my shoes off and feel the hardwood floor beneath my feet, look around at scattered sunbeams and piles of books, I smile. This is good.
Featured columnist Gracy Olmstead is a senior writer for The American Conservative, a senior contributor for The Federalist, and the Thursday editor of BRIGHT, a weekly newsletter for women. Her writings can also be found at The Week, Christianity Today, Acculturated, The University Bookman, and Catholic Rural Life.