Please welcome today’s guest writer, Kai Koopman (’14). Kai studied writing and art history at Calvin and now works for a non-profit in Grand Rapids. He loves exploring words and wilderness and is joyfully awaiting his next adventure—getting married in the fall.
Most college students experience an abrupt transition after graduation. For some, it’s moving to a new country. For others, it’s moving back home.
I started driving a moving truck.
Yes, I take immense pleasure in that aspect of my job. For one thing, my mechanical sense is so poor that a year of truck driving has gone a long way toward bolstering my determined pursuit of trade skills.
(The chasm between my dream and reality is vast, though. Just last month, I learned to inflate my car tires properly after fumbling with the pump, and then sheepishly asking a gas station attendant how it worked in front of my girlfriend (now fiancé, actually—that must have won her over.))
It’s a 17’ Ford E-350 box truck, to be exact.
For most of the past year, I’ve served as an AmeriCorps member based at a local non-profit, working to provide secure homes—and all the furniture to go inside—for refugees resettling to Grand Rapids. In plain terms, I’ve been the human conduit between those who have extra space and stuff and those who don’t.
It’s a strange position to occupy, especially a year after ruminating on the poet Christian Wiman’s remarks on “being nowhere” in his book of essays, Ambition and Survival. Now, many of the people I serve have literally been homeless, even stateless—experiencing some lack or another for an inhuman amount of time. To categorize my own internal listlessness as “being nowhere” seems flimsy against the exigencies of physical need.
I can now confidently navigate all quadrants of Grand Rapids without GPS. Whereas before, I only really had the corridor between Eastown and Calvin memorized.
Beyond an improved directional sense, as a mover, I’ve witnessed the flowing current of physical trappings (mostly furniture) from place to place. By now, a few couches and rocking chairs have passed through my hands, on their way to fill another house or apartment. In each place they say, “Welcome. This is your home. Be at rest.”
I glean donated furniture after things that mark some kind of unraveling—an estate sale, a move, a downsizing. I’ve begun to think of my work as a conservation of energy between excess and lack, between different kinds of placelessness. To be in the business of collection, rather than dispersal, seems to be a decidedly un-Millennial task. I flock to the places people are leaving and liquidating—self-storage complexes and vacant warehouses—in order to gather enough material for a new transplant.
The date of a house’s construction, its layout and its neighborhood all determine how it can be furnished.
The other week, I struggled to move a large couch through a narrow upper floor doorway. Other times, stairwells have been too short and thin for a queen box spring and bed. A home, by definition, is a unique container that holds idiosyncratic things and specific presences.
A green easy chair. A china plate with ‘Arizona’ printed in red letters. A Gollum statuette. My bedroom.
I’ve discovered the physicality of home—and that the elusive currents of need and excess can flow together and collect in spare eddies—even at the right time, and in the right place. And if you give me a call, I’ll be there with my truck.