View from Rue Saint-Georges

No Place Like …

Finding happiness in small spaces

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | March 6, 2019

My daughter, who is five and sensitive to so many things that I, as an adult, have grown inured to, believes that objects are alive and have feelings. If you own a table, in my daughter’s vision of the world, you also possess the capacity to hurt that table and have the responsibility to treat it well. We recently moved apartments, from a street-level place with limited natural light to an airy fifth-floor space. My wife and I rejoiced at the change, but my daughter took a more measured approach. When she and my wife happened to be walking past the old apartment one day, she pointed out that we had had good times there and owed the space a certain loyalty, even in memory.

This point of hers stirred feelings in me that I haven’t known for many years and brought to mind my own childhood home. Although the house was far too small, my parents lived there until I was out of college. Moving was an unequivocal improvement for all of us, but there was a bittersweetness to it—an awareness of closing part of one’s life, and a recognition that although cramped spaces can frustrate, they can also bring out what’s best in us. They can teach us to share, to bend, to accommodate each other. The acts of kindness, generosity—and selflessness—I saw my parents display in that tiny house will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them equaled in even the grandest multimillion-dollar homes. Whether those old walls were living or not, I am loyal to that.

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