As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.
Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…
Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast. Email me for more info: Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com
With each entry I read, I am more and more stunned by how so many of us don’t expect community. We build it. And often it takes a shock to the system to believe in it…and to receive it. Thank you, Darla Bruno, for showing us. yrs. Laura
Essay on Community for Haven, by Darla Bruno
It was my town’s fault. Or maybe it was my boyfriend’s. Things happened fast after I got the surprise news I was pregnant. We moved here—to this homogenized affluent suburban town—because we needed a nest within commuting distance of New York City. There were so many other, better, places to live. But this would do. For now.
In the beginning, I stayed home with our newborn. Eventually I began lugging my weary lactating postpartum body to mom’s groups and lunches full of shrieking newborns. There was much discreet unfastening of nursing bras; we fed and comforted so there would be quiet to carry on conversation. Though conversation back then typically involved nothing more than nap schedules, sleep issues, and poop. Lots and lots of talk about poop.
My boyfriend worked long hours, and so did many of the people in my town who were trying to support huge homes and large families, private schooling and Whole Foods. It’s hard to meet your neighbors when you spend your days in an office in a different state and come home past eight, just in time to get to the gym and crash. Another thing that seemed to segregate us from the neighbors who were never at home: we were renters. Very few people rented in our town. Those who did were professors, college students, or divorcees—none of whom congregated regularly with the rest of us.
I needed community. I longed for it. After spending the ten years since grad school living in New England and then traveling to Europe and back again, community had acquired a more global meaning. I felt most at home with expats in other countries and with the fellow seekers and travelers I met on planes. But now I was building a family and a community. Or so I hoped.
My days, for at least 26 months, involved nursing my daughter, squeezing in a little work while she napped and after she went to bed, and having dinner at 9 p.m. with my tired boyfriend. When I railed against this lifestyle and begged my boyfriend to find a different job, I discovered this was normal life. We weren’t special. Other people’s husbands got home at nine. Mothers worked. People spoke in hurried apologetic fragments when you met them in line at Whole Foods or the post office. There was just so much to do.
My boyfriend’s corporate job was paying our bills. But it didn’t stop the growing longing I had to connect. To widen my circle of support. I had a child now. And it takes a village … right? Where was my village?
The answer was never apparent. Perhaps I was waiting for someone else to make it happen, for a community housewarming committee to come knocking at my door. For the day when I would become less busy.
And then one day it came. It even made international news.
For several days and nights in late October, the atmosphere took on an odd golden hue and eerie silence that stole my attention. In retrospect, it was literally the calm before the storm. But at the time, I didn’t know what was brewing over that horizon and the deep impact it would deliver.
Flashlights, cell-phone chargers, batteries, bottled water, all began disappearing from stores through the entire tri-state area. The predictions were dire, but no one could know for sure. When I spoke to my family or friends who lived in the area, I sensed a subtle panic. The kind that comes with uncertainty and nowhere else to go.
During the previous year’s hurricane, we managed to secure a hotel. This time, even hotels weren’t equipped to handle what was being expected. So we all stayed put in our homes. Sitting ducks.
The waiting opened up a different connection than any of us had felt in a long time. “Us” grew to include me, my family, our neighbors, our extended family and friends, and strangers in other cities. The waiting and the uncertainty birthed a kind of vulnerability that most of us don’t surrender to in our daily lives.
A few weeks before, I had taken my daughter to the community theater to see a Richard Scarry show that involved foxes, cats, a family of pigs, and a worm. They lived in a town called Busytown, and the animals waved as they rushed past each other in cars, on bikes, and with shopping carts. It seemed like the theatrical version of my town.
And yet, on the eve of the storm, many of us were hunkered down. My boyfriend and I and our daughter lay on sleeping bags on the living room floor. We snuggled together watching nature shows until the power went out. Within a couple of hours, we layered on clothes to prepare for a night without heat, grateful the temperature wasn’t too cold.
And then came the wind, blowing 40 miles per hour. In no time, a tree fell a couple of feet from our house. It landed on my regular parking space. I’d been smart enough to move my car to safety earlier that evening.
After putting our daughter to bed, my boyfriend and I stayed up and waited. We were frozen in time, watching, anticipating. We lived in a house surrounded by trees, and all I kept imagining was the next one falling and cutting through our roof. The wind whipped around the soffits and drain pipes. It rattled the windows and threatened the structure.
In the distance, I heard what I later realized were trees falling—giant oaks, maples and birches—their trunks hitting the ground with a thwack and rumble.
There was nothing else to do but sit and wait and pray. I knew that nearly everyone statewide and beyond was doing, and feeling, the same, and as I sat and waited, something in me—a sixth sense, perhaps—felt connected to something bigger than myself.
The following day, gray and chilly, we were without power. No more roaring winds; just the low grinding hum of generators.
The worst of it was over. But recovery was slow. In the days that followed, there would be flooding, and gas shortages, extended power outages and families in shelters. The usual—the every day, the business of Busytown—was stripped away.
And with it came a deep connection through our most vulnerable selves. The ones wracked by witnessing destruction and injury and even loss of life. What mattered most in that aftermath? It wasn’t the phone calls and emails, the gym, the lists of things to do, or the effort to pretend that everything was well.
Everything was now not well. But the thing was, we were all in it together. Facebook posts blinked through the ether—“We’re okay.” “We have heat now, please come to our house.” People extended whatever abundance had befallen them to anyone who may not have been so fortunate.
This storm, like the storm of the year before, happened right over Halloween. The year before, Halloween had been rescheduled. This year, it was cancelled, except in our town. That Saturday, my boyfriend and I took our ballerina house to house and were in awe of the friendly neighbors who’d gone to whatever stores were powered by generators to grab bags of candy for the trick-or-treaters. One entire block was teeming with kids and parents who stood outside with a keg of beer and some popcorn, greeting everyone and trading stories about the events of recent days. It was the coziest I’d felt in years, and the kids were thrilled to be out and running around.
Later, we stopped by a local pub for drinks, and chicken fingers for our tired ballerina. A fireplace glowed. We all were there for the same reasons—to charge phones and laptops, to warm up and enjoy some hot food and company—and with gas outages preventing us from using our cars, we were staying local and not so plugged in. In our vulnerability, our sudden desire to help each other, and our recognition of just how much we have to be grateful for, we had all come home to ourselves—and through our shared goal to restore our lives, we had deepened our connection with each other.
BIO: Darla Bruno lives in New Jersey where she is a writer, editor, work-from-home mom, and life coach