“…and the association of living beings who have this sense—of good and evil—make a household…”
The fact is that many people today end up living in a house alone. Sometimes it is by choice. Other times it is surely not, and the house has echoes of people who were there in the past, or whom the inhabitant dearly wishes, even if in the abstract and unknowing, might one day live there.
To ‘come home’ just to oneself can be very difficult. It can even make one wonder—what’s the point? One might wish that one’s own household would simply cease to exist, and perhaps be absorbed into someone else’s. Then I’d really be at home, when ‘we’ are at home, together.
A household is always about sharing life together. And so a home can be a living contradiction—even if many people are actually there. Real living together requires more than being under the same roof.
Thought it doesn’t always feel like it, a signal gift in human life is the existence of others with whom we share human nature. Shared humanity is the basis for shared life, for living together in various rich ways. The household is the specifically human way of living together on a daily basis.
So what then of a household of one? This question has special importance today when socio-economic patterns make living alone more feasible and more common—among young adults, middle-aged, and elderly. Regardless of the reasons and the ultimate desirability of this situation, the fact is that circumstances nearly dictate that a number of people will live alone, thereby constituting what we can call a household of one.
Can a household of one be a real household, a place of shared daily life? My answer is yes, and this especially to the extent that the person realizes that his or her household too is about shared life, every day.
The central drama, it seems to me, in any household is whether the focus is on me, or on us; on the individual, or on shared life and communion of persons, beginning in the home and transcending it. Again, having several persons in the house—even where needs seem to be met—does not in itself suffice for real shared life. Living in communion and true being-together, where people really feel ‘at home,’ require certain interior dispositions and that these be lived out in certain ways. There is more here than meets the eye. So it is in a household of one, too.
Consider those fairy-tale households of one person living in the forest. When the children approach the door you wonder whether they will be offered dinner, or be made into dinner. This highlights in bold two basic alternative attitudes of any household: my life here is about me, and others are simply means to my ends; or, my life here is about sharing who and what I am with others—whether they are belong to my household, or not.
A household can always look outward generously. In the case of a married couple and family, they start within, putting a priority on one another, and then extend themselves in hospitality and openness to others, effectively expanded the interior life outward.
A household of one likewise can cultivate a life within that is then shared with others. It will be somewhat different. But neither way is ever easy.
Some households of one are preparing to be family households. Some are what is left now of a former family household. Some for various reasons are neither of these, or perhaps are not sure of where they fall. Yet in all cases a household of one can be a real home of other-centered life and love.
Some of the warmest and most welcoming homes I’ve entered are households of one. I think of my grandma’s home when I was child. Going through her front door was like entering a land of enchantment; it was for me a home away from home. I think of some middle-aged people I know. Will they ever marry? Perhaps God only knows, but right now they make their home a place that human hearts love to be, finding home-liness, and life-giving presence.
How many wandering or lost individuals have stepped into such a household of one, and feel that someone has been waiting, and even preparing, just for them? The life-giving power of such a home cannot be measured.
In every household, no matter the size, there is the challenge and the opportunity to live a truly human life, which is always a shared life, in generosity, in little ways and in big, every day.
~ ~ ~
P.s.: If so inspired, please share any experiences of your own, regarding households of one.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Politics is one of his major ethical works.
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