April 3, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Many of us are now spending 24 hours a day with people we would not have chosen, or would have chosen until we actually had to spend 24 hours a day with them. Musical chairs is not a fun game when the rules are altered to remove all the open chairs and to require sitting in the same damn chair day after day after cursed day. While loneliness can be a challenge, in a lot of ways it’s easier than being lashed together with people who annoy the hell out of you.

I’m thinking particularly of folks living in so-called “congregate facilities” and the like—treatment centers, recovery residences, transitional living situations. I spent five years as director of a small veterans housing program—the program was small, not the veterans, who were all different sizes. At least daily, I’d have one resident come to complain about a housemate or, particularly, a roommate.

“Keith, you don’t understand how awful Tony is! He’s a mouth-breather who never brushes his teeth. Our whole room smells like whatever he last ate!”

“You’ve got to do something about Wes He uses up all the toilet paper in the second-floor bathroom and never replaces it! And he lives on the first floor, so I know he’s just doing it to annoy me.”

“Please kick Aaron out! He never does any work around here—never cooks, never cleans, never puts anything away. Not only that, he always shouts out the answers during Jeopardy. “

During my own time living in a shelter, I know how little things can build and snowball and multiply until they are absolutely huge—at least in my mind. At least I was always able to leave for work or meetings. With most workers furloughed or fired, with meetings only available online and with a state stay-at-home order in place , the stress of sharing limited space must keep tick-tocking away. I know of only one solution for anyone trapped in that situation.

Begin with yourself. Work on yourself. End with yourself.

You are the only thing in the world over which you have any control—not coronavirus, not your past-due rent, not your sponsor, not your crummy roommate. For what it’s worth, here are some thoughts worth considering—instead of exploding or imploding:

“I can’t change the world/but I can change the world in me/if I rejoice”—U2 “Rejoice”
“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”—William James

“Self-observation is the first step of inner unfolding.”—Amit Ray

“If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be content to take their own and depart.”—Socrates

“You’re twice as dumb and half as smart as you think you are.”—my old Army roommate

Taken together and well mixed, the message above is I (or you) (or anyone) can’t know what demons plague our fellow humans, can’t see the apple on our own heads. We see the outside of others but the inside of ourselves—and are only too prepared to offer excuses, explanations and special pleadings. So . . . the next time you’ve had it up to here with your roommate, housemate, cellmate, husband or anyone else, remember the best revenge.

They have to live with YOU.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,

Keith