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
Community of Small Things, by Renee Lux
When my daughter was still young enough to need naps, I would wake her every afternoon by cracking open her bedroom window. From the playground across the street we could hear the sound of children playing, the dull “thunk” of a basketball and the rhythmic squeak of rusty swings. I would whisper in her ear, “Wake up. Your friends are waiting for you,” and a smile would break out across her sleepy face.
For two years, we lived in a neighborhood of multi-family homes, perched at the top of a steep hill just a few T-stops west of Boston. The playground and dog park was geographically and socially at the center of our community. Everyday at 10 and 3 my daughter would meet up with a posse of one year-olds on the playground. Together they learned to walk in the sandbox, toilet trained in the bushes and shared birthdays at the picnic table, while we mothers and nannies would gratefully share adult conversation.
In this community, the hours of the day were marked by the comings and goings of our neighbors. Breakfast was punctuated by the sound of a Harley roaring to life. “Anthony’s daddy is going to work!” my daughter would announce.
In the evening, a neighbor who faced the park would begin practicing on her baby grand piano, and everyone knew it was time to head home for dinner.
In summer, dog owners would return with beer and wine to watch the dogs roughhouse in the grass while the kids; some in their pajamas, took one last ride on the swings before sunset.
Here we had a community on our doorstep. Friendly faces and daily contact lay just on the other side of our own front door. So, it broke our hearts to move on – on to a new town, a better job and a better opportunity.
In our new neighborhood every home has a playground in the backyard. Every other home has a swimming pool, and every third house has an automatic gate and a tall boxwood hedge for privacy. The nearest public playground is usually empty and there are no sidewalks for trick-or-treaters or dog walkers.
For a long time, I only had acquaintances in this town. My network was a sampling of women who made small talk from behind their sunglasses and brushed cheeks with me at school socials.
One day, out of nowhere, a mom who I had known for less than a year invited me to join her and some girlfriends on trip to Miami to celebrate her 40th. I remember thinking that this was a bizarre invitation from someone I barely knew. I politely declined and told my husband, “I don’t think I’m ready for that level of commitment.”
I sailed along without commitment or community, until one day, out of habit, a neighbor asked about my husband. As it turns out, he had just been laid off- a situation that was so new and traumatic that I wasn’t able to simply respond, “He’s fine.”
My answer was a rambling recitation of office politics and back-story delivered with subtle tones of shame. When I was done, my neighbor removed her sunglasses and looking at me with warm green eyes said, “I know how brutal it can be. My husband lost three jobs in three years.”
I was caught completely off guard. Suddenly I realized that this woman wasn’t an acquaintance, she was a friend!
My neighbor extended me a lifeline, so I took hold and asked her how she coped and how she cared for her family. She was honest and forthcoming and during our extended unemployment she was part of my support system. I tested the waters in other relationships and found there too were lifelines just waiting for me.
Today, that woman whose 40th birthday I missed, is my best friend and we have pulled each other through all sorts of intimate tragedies and victories. Sometimes I look at her and think back to that invitation, that fearless act of friendship that she extended to me and I wonder, “How did she know?”
I have learned to extend lifelines of my own and in return I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am part of what nourishes the community that supports me. I stopped at a friend’s house today and gave her a break from her two flu-stricken daughters. She gave me a Tupperware of homemade soup for lunch and I will return it this evening with something for her dinner. I am the emergency contact for half a dozen families at school, and they are mine. I am the back-up nanny for a full-time working mom. I am part of a neighborhood carpool. My garbage collector’s name is Julio and he has two young daughters. My mailman, Yves is from Haiti. Once again, friendly faces and daily contact lies just on the other side of my front door.
While it may not have the Norman Rockwell patina of our Boston neighborhood, my new community revealed that it too has depth and strength. What I have today is not built on something arbitrary like the proximity of a park; it is built on daily acts of faith and friendship, small things that are within everyone’s reach.