David doesn’t need gifts. He’s right that many arrive and he rarely misses their opportunities. He celebrates the surprise of winter’s first snowflakes, he is curious enough to dissect forest poop to identify its owner, and without exception, he laughs when things are funny.
The year he turned forty, he asked for a gift. With the earnest optimism that is his trademark, he mused, “let’s organize a community-build of a straw bale house.” I snorted, but I knew in my heart that it would happen. David makes gifts happen.
It is four months since our family returned from living at Strawhaven, an awe-inspiring space, barn-raised by our family and friends, beautiful in what it represents to us, more than it appears to the uninformed eye. It is truly the house that love built. Love in all its forms, ages, stripes, and intensities.
On my partner’s fortieth birthday, he asked for something I didn’t want to give. I struggled with misgivings about an extended stay in a tent with three young children. I felt awkward asking my community to haul straw bales, endure the buzz of a generator, and go without a shower to help us realize a hippy eco-space dream. I felt panic about persistent hosting in the absence of running water or solid shelter.
Mostly, as a mother of three unschoolers, I felt rabidly jealous of my own time. Ready to be in the driver’s seat, I rejected the idea of a further hiatus to my own priorities. I didn’t want extra responsibility. Or more debt.
I sulked. Gathered up the testimony of friends who agreed. Took tantrums. Said no. In the euphoria of my moral high ground, I remembered something.
I thought of David and I, in the heady days of early “friendship” nearly two decades before. We had planned a canoe trip. The departure day was ominous and the forecast desolate. I refused to go. David smiled, loaded my things up and encouraged me, “Let’s go.”
I got into the car and slammed the door. I sulked. Gathered up the testimony of friends who agreed. Took tantrums. Complained that the car lacked air conditioning. The weekend unfolded as the most stunningly beautiful and peaceful canoe trip of my life.
I choose to be in relationship with David because he encourages me to go places I wouldn’t go without him. Like into a monogamous, heterosexual relationship. Like camping in a hurricane. Like into motherhood – not once or twice, but three times!
Trusting his instincts about what we can do together has delivered me into transformative moments – to engage with something I reject but that has the potential to teach me about a whole new side of myself, complete with capacities I’ve left languishing in the dark.
In the months since we returned “home”, we haven’t written one word about Strawhaven despite much encouragement to do so. The beauty of those many moments feel impossible to confine into description or pictures or photo albums. How can gratitude be expressed to each other and to family and friends whose laughter, creativity, communal contribution and just-plain-love made David’s gift come to life in a way I did not expect?
What we experienced and learned – from each other, from our family and friends, from building with straw, from the company, Evolve, that helped us to make it happen, from the forest, from our children, from three seasons in nature, from the media-diet the project required, from calling a tent home for months (and months!), and from living without electricity or running water – is hard to put into words.
But I’m sure I did learn (again) that trust in a loving relationship is complicated, beautiful, fragile and critical to growing up (more). I’m glad David asked for a gift. He’s got good instincts that way.