Difference is a Good Thing (A Peek into my Non-Family Household)

We had a discussion at home the other day about whether or not we choose our friends. I was convinced we do, but afterwards realised that the Roommate was right. We don’t really choose them, it’s more that life itself chooses our friends for us. At least that’s how it’s always worked for me. In nearly all the people who I consider close and dear, our meeting is an unusual story, and extraordinary timing and coincidence (being in a particular place on a particular day for instance) played a role in how we became important parts of each other’s lives.

The Roommate and I are no different. In the weeks leading to my departure for Toronto, I spent huge amounts of time on Craigslist and Viewit.ca and Kijji and Padmapper and all sorts of other apartment hunting sites trying to find a place that I liked enough to commit to. For the most part, listings would read: “Most AMAZING apartment ever! Beautiful, sun filled, spacious, and an incredible deal! Close to everything, food, transit, the city, the university etc”. And then I would actually look at pictures, and it would invariably be a small dark apartment with an unpleasant colour of walls, and some dude’s lumpy mattress in the middle of the room. After a while, I could no longer distinguish one listing from another, time was ticking by and I was really no closer to finding a place.

Until one day, the universe intervened. A lovely girl I had met several months earlier at a weekend conference emailed me and a good friend of hers out of the blue saying that she knew one of us was looking for an apartment (via my Facebook updates asking for apartment hunting advice) and that the other was looking for a new roommate, and she thought both of us were cool, so perhaps we might be good fit. I was delighted, and fast forward a few emails later to see if I liked the place (I did), my apartment hunt was over.

At the beginning of this semester I tried out a housing course, and in the first session we learnt that there is a word in housing studies to describe our living situation: we are a non family household. We aren’t related, but we constitute one household living in a dwelling unit that accommodates us.

And while the non-family part is true, it’s been an fascinating and incredibly blessed experience so far, and I still marvel on how something I had very little to do with (minus much prayer and hoping) has been such a source of positivity and joy. Yesterday evening I had a quiet night reading articles for my urban policy class about arguments for and against compact cities, and it felt so comfortable and familiar to be reading and working in silence. It was the kind of simple but beautiful evening that has made Toronto home: we had a tasty dinner treat of homemade crepes and fresh fruit, there was tea and chatting for dessert, and afterwards we spent hours working in cosy silence, taking mini breaks to read passages out loud, tease each other, have popcorn, share little interesting things that we are working on, and simply learn together and make progress on individual goals. I’ve lived with roommates before but never in such a closely integrated way, and this year has been an education on what an immense gift the company of another is, especially when that person is very different from yourself.

Because to my great surprise, we are. We didn’t ask each other very much about habits or hobbies or anything like that before living together, and while there have been many little lessons I’ve learnt, broadly speaking this year has taught me two huge things so far.

1) Difference is good. The Roommate and I are very different people. Our core values are the same, but we are in different fields, our personalities are different, we grew up in different settings, we like different books, we have different hobbies, all in all, we are not the same. And I never realised how interesting that  can be.  It is wonderful to get a glimpse into things you know nothing about, to learn about different worlds, to meet different kinds of people and to have conversations about things you would not have otherwise. In fact, it makes it impossible to be bored, and makes life a wonderfully interesting mind-expanding encounter. That difference is a source of growth and fresh air, but having similar core values and much respect for each other means we have a happy home.

2) Openness to change is good. It is important to allow yourself to be changed by others. We were out to dinner the other day and there was a moment in the conversation where I couldn’t stop smiling, but it was only afterwards that I realised why. Karen Armstrong was in town recently, and in her talk at the Toronto Public Library she spoke about the importance of always allowing ourselves to change our minds when we enter into conversations, instead of trying to bludgeon the other person with our own point of view. That was the way of Socrates, who taught us dialogue is about opening your heart and making place for other perspectives by listening to others and not becoming attached to our opinions. Doing this is difficult though, and involves emptying our minds, forgetting what we think we know and going into dialogues willing to be changed. At dinner that talk came to mind, and I realised that it would be a poor outcome and a deficiency on my part if I left our time together with exactly the same assumptions I started out with.  There is so much I have to learn and improve upon, and the gift of difference is one that definitely brings one’s own inconsistencies and understanding into examination.

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