I lived in a basement suite for 11 years.
For a single person who prefers cooler, quieter places over hot, noisy places, it served it’s purpose well. I was able to shut the world out when I needed to, and no one else I knew could beat my free all-natural air conditioning in the summer. People who vacation to Mexico or Palm Springs baffle me. The heat is intolerable! So a space that remained cool, even in the hottest Albertan summer, was a God-send.
But this place had the old small basement windows. They were big enough for me to wriggle through in case of fire, but no larger. There was one window in my bedroom, and two in the dining/kitchen area. There were none in the living area — it was all one long white wall.
Having struggled with insomnia since I was 19, I know to spend as little time in the bedroom as possible unless it is specifically for sleep. Even then, that east-facing window was heavily draped so the morning sun wouldn’t wake me too soon. It was an easy task during the winter months; not so easy during our northerly summers. But since I spent few daytime waking hours in there, it mattered little.
The two important windows faced west/southwest. However, they were so small that they faced up against the neighbour’s fence. For short periods out of the day — natural light would slant in towards the furnace room. I might have caught a piece of it now and then if I was cooking at the right time, or switching my laundry from the washing machine to the dryer. But by and large, I experienced no daily natural sunlight until I left the house.
I even had to crane my neck upwards to see what kind of snow was falling during the winter.
For an introvert, this might sound heavenly to you. Indeed, even as I describe it, the misanthrope in me misses it. But with isolation from the sun came isolation from the world. I didn’t know just how isolated or unhealthy I had become until I moved in the sunniest room in the house here in Edmonton.
Early morning wake-up calls from the sunrise were frustrating in the beginning. I am the world’s most terrible mystic in that I have no desire to rise and contemplatively greet the rising sun. A few choice words may have escaped my mouth during that first week.
Hot temperatures also nearly did me in. I’m an autumn-lover, so frosty nights and cool days are my element. A bright old room with enough windows sucking heat in enough to bake a cake is one way to roast me slowly in my own juices. A quick trip to Wal-Mart to find a small A/C unit fixed that. My commitment to minimalism was put to the test but I had to weight this one out between living minimally or losing my mind.
I chose to keep my mind.
A/C unit in place and my system slowly adapting to bits of sunlight here and there, I began to settle in. I also began to notice something else: I could see.
Down in the basement suite, as much as I loved some of the long times alone, I paced a lot. I fretted, I binge-watched Netflix (but not in a good way), and I worried about how being cooped up like I was would affect my night’s sleep. I couldn’t afford to move anywhere else — the rents were too high! I hadn’t found another job that might offer to pay more so I could move to a place with light. And around and around I went…
What a difference day makes. Not A day. DAY.
A day with light filtering in through the windows; a day when I can look down upon the trees and yard outside; a day I can look out upon the rooftops around me; a day I can notice the people walking past, and cars driving by; a day I watch the rain and the wind in the trees; a day I can sit and feel the sun on my face.
If I’m stuck in my room all day tapping away on homework, I don’t feel anxious about whether I’ll sleep or not. I simply move away from the desk to the window seat and look out on the world. Who knew the world had this much to offer from one window? Even my skin feels more alive.
I learned to live and love my 11 years in my basement suite.
But I needed to come out — to come up — into the light and let it enter me.
It doesn’t rush me to heal or grow; it doesn’t push me to see everything differently all at once. All it does is soak into me — into those dark dry cracks — and begins enliven this wary soul and illumine these blind eyes. Everything seems so new and original. It’s as if I’ve never watched a backyard tree before.
That’s a long time to be out of the world in the way that I was. Perhaps it was more like straddling the worlds of real and imagined, alive and dead, light and dark.
Now is my time to wake up.