catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 8 :: 2009.04.10 — 2009.04.24


Moving in grace

If ever there has a time that I have needed grace, it has been in the trek through my transitional twenties. Thankfully, this has also been the time when I have experienced grace as never before, and in character with its surprising Author, one of the recent sources of this divine substance has come from an unlikely source: my very first landlord.

A few months ago, as the time came for me to move from a community house of eight mates because our year-long program was nearing the end, I had to investigate what my next living situation would look like in Pittsburgh. Having never lived on my own, I began to consider this possibility for the first time. After spending an unhealthy amount of time on Craigslist, I realized I had seen most of what there was to see in my area and I wasn’t willing to venture out past the neighborhood I had felt so invested in. As time began to run out, I needed to make my decision. I finally settled on an apartment that, although it begged for a paint job and new carpet, seemed to work, mainly meeting my spatial and budgetary prerequisites.

Throughout the course of my life, I have moved many times, between neighborhoods, cities, states and countries. In preparing myself for yet another move, I tried to convince myself it would be no big deal, reasoning that if I didn’t like it, I could just leave, but the thought of signing a lease on my own stirred a great anxiety within me. As petrifying thoughts ran laps through my brain, I began to reflect and remember and dread all the demands of a move: pack, schlep, orient, reestablish, settle. Especially as an artist, I have all my regular human stuff, and then I have all my art stuff. Being a huge collector of materials, I am always spotting things with unrealized potential, determining that I can transform trash to treasure. So I packed up all my bubble wrap and cardboard and PVC pipe and Styrofoam and hay and window screens and old oatmeal containers and…you name it. I moved into the community house in one carload and moved out in three, almost entirely due to found art materials.

Moving in was a miserable and lonely experience and I quickly realized that I was not someone who was ever intended to live alone. On top of this, I came to realize the monthly estimate of my gas bill was half the cost of my rent and nearly croaked when I considered that I had no one to split this with. For a couple of weeks I came home to this lonely place, uninspired to settle, and certainly not settled enough to create. My mind was clouded.

Thankfully God knows what you need when you need it, and my phone was ringing off the hook with thoughtful friends. Two such friends called me to say that they were each considering the possibility of moving to Pittsburgh and wanted to inquire about being roommates. I told them of my recent dwelling decision, but invited them to visit and see if they thought it would be possible to move in with me. I had no expectations as the apartment was tiny for two, but separately offered to each of them the option of living with me in these tight headquarters. I had no confirmation that either would even move to Pittsburgh, but prayed that something might work out. Much to my surprise, after they each considered this option, both called within three hours of each other one Wednesday evening asking to share the space with me. I was delighted at this thought, but struck with a new problem. There was certainly no way we could all move into this space.

I thought about the situation from every angle, trying my best to consider what creative solutions there might be that I hadn’t yet discovered. I was totally dry. The reality was that I had signed a year lease for an apartment that would directly swallow half of my income. While I should have been thankful to not be on the street, I despised the walls around me and roof above me; each day was a tearful one. One sunny afternoon I resolved to call my landlord and see if I could negotiate a shorter lease, but I was already assuming there would be no way out.

When my landlord, picked up the phone I stumbled over my words, trying to talk to him about the situation, not able to formulate my feelings or requests in any constructive manner. Mid-way through our conversation, as I was struggling to keep my composure, my landlord asked, “Stefanie, are you crying?” Upon my sorrowful reply, he began to laugh and said, “Oh, don’t cry. Look, if you can’t live there, you can’t live there.”

I was shocked. “But I signed a year lease,” I said. He paused, and said it would be fine to let it go. He’d break the lease for me. I was amazed.

Never would I have guessed that any landlord, especially in Pittsburgh, would be willing to dismiss a lease agreement at the drop of a hat. There is such widespread vacancy in Pittsburgh, and a constant struggle to find tenants. Many of the same apartments that were listed nine months ago when I was looking are still waiting to be filled. This gift of grace could potentially be quite costly for my landlord and he was well aware of this.

I utterly hated leaving my landlord in a tenant-less position. I anguished over this for some time, but realized that he did not have to let me go. He could have kept me bound to the commitment I had signed. Grace had been freely offered me and I needed to accept it in humility, gratitude and awe, simply delighting in it.

In the grand scheme, this story may seem of small significance, but this instance became monumental in affirming my belief that nothing is final and anything is possible. It makes me wonder if choosing to live on my own initially was a mistake after all given all I have learned in the process. It has been a beautiful discovery. Each day in my current apartment, with my two wonderful roommates, I find myself thankful-and I am thankful, too, to report that my first apartment was filled shortly thereafter. This man certainly broke the stereotype of lousy landlords, and since being on the receiving end of such grace, I feel all the more compelled to show grace to others. 

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