Have you ever wondered why the elderly live in community, while families with young children typically live in a sort of modern day isolation?
Kinda strange, isn’t it?
Sure we moms are free to come and go, but where is a mother and her children REALLY welcome in public, where kids are free to just be kids? It isn’t really that enjoyable to bring our children places where we have to control them, to care take the emotional discomforts of the "prim and proper" adults in the room.
Most cities have kid friendly places (but truthfully, they aren’t very mom friendly- how much do you really enjoy the Children’s Museum or water parks or indoor play gyms?) and they are fine enough if you like that kind of thing, but personally I like a more intimate and laid back free play and deep conversation experience. The fact that I have to spend money to get out of the house and entertain my kids in the presence of total strangers, is not really my idea of a family friendly world. I find myself feeling just as isolated there, if not more so than at home, because small talk is really painful for me.
It is not that I don’t appreciate these kid centered places for what they are, it is just that I long for something more.
Last night I visited my grandparents who were hosting the family for Thanksgiving dinner. Lo and behold as I am about to enter the elevator I see a schedule, with time blocks for Tai Chi, Yoga, Zumba, and other types of community activity.
At that moment, I realized that my grandparents are living MY dream.
I would love to be able to step out into the hallway and join another mother for tea or coffee without having to get in a car. I would love to be able to hang in a community room when I am feeling social to see who else wants to play. I would love to gather in front of a fireplace and enjoy a glass of wine with other parents while the kids have a last play before bedtime (and maybe come back once they are tucked in and asleep!). I would love to cook dinner with other women and eat in community, I would like to walk out my door to yoga, tai chi and zumba…. and like I said, without getting in a car!
I would love to come to your suite and read a book while your kids sleep, so that you can go out on a date. Yes, I would love to cook extra and bring you dinner, so that you can take a night off from cooking. Yes, you can bring your baby or child by for a play date, so you can run your errands and take a break. Yes, I will fold your laundry and bring it to your door. Yes, I would love to bring you chicken soup when you feel under the weather. Yes, I will bring you medicine in the middle of the night when your child awakens with vomiting and a fever and you don’t have any. Yes, I will take your older children and feed them breakfast so that you can sleep in with your newborn.
If I have to get in the car, chances are that as much as I would like to step forward to help you, it just isn’t gonna happen as often as it should, because simple acts of kindness, suddenly become complex to juggle due to distance and time.
Close physical proximity is everything. Community happens in close physical proximity. Close proximity naturally breeds community spirit when we know people.
Interestingly, having lived in a myriad of community situations, I recall people questioning our family’s lifestyle choices, "You mean you are starting a swingers house?" (I am not even kidding, sheesh), or "Is that a cult" or "Your looking to join a commune?" And yet the likelihood is very high that these very same people who couldn’t get their heads around the idea of intentional community, are destined for it themselves!
Why is it considered weird for a young family to want to live like this, but normal and expected for our grandparents?
So what, pray tell are we waiting for? If not now, then when?
Can you imagine a large building with multi-age families living together where everyone had their own private suite, yet shared a gym, a community room and community kitchen?
Nearly every apartment building in the city could give up a few suites to accommodate some common areas.
There is already a model for this. It is called a retirement home!
If we are all going to die in community anyway, then why not live in community now for a much richer life experience.
Truth be told, I don’t see any value in the current model of single family dwellings. The only benefit I can see to living in single family dwellings is one that serves industry. The less we share, the more we buy.
And now here is the rub, I don’t really know what step to take from here. Yes, I know we have to start where we are and that we do live in houses. I personally do not have the resources to purchase an apartment building and convert it into an intentional community.
But I do have to say that as much as people like to talk about community and have gatherings and events and such, at the end of the day, we still have to go home to the reality of something missing.
I don’t believe we are meant to live like this and the only reason we can even stand to put up with it, is because we have phones, TV and internet. If these things did not exist, we would not live the way we do with surrogate and virtual communities to tie us over until the next opportunity to gather with friends and family.
I want more people to be a part of my every day moment to moment world. I don’t want to have to plan or schedule time to be with people, I just want people present to be a normal part of the spontaneous flow and rhythm of my life. I want to build a life together, not a series of get-togethers.
And while get togethers might have to suffice in the current conditions of my life, I think that this kind of community is very much backwards, not at all unlike the way we are educated. Children spend way too much time being taught things that they are not developmentally ready for. We sacrifice their valuable free play time "to educate" when the same principles could be taught a few years later and understood in minutes if presented in the appropriate timing.
This parallels cultivating community because we spend all this time trying to get together to build community and learn how to live together -while not living together- which developmentally innappropriate for the conditions of true community living anyway.
What could take years to plan, develop and work out (with ample time to walk away when the going gets tough) could be adopted and undertaken much quicker if we were simply planted in close proximity to each other and present to one another on a day to day basis to work out the kinks. And it is worth working out, not only because relationships are the only thing that matters, but also for the souls growth.
Our society needs to make this shift so badly.
While we take our basic needs for granted and have come to trust and rely on industry, what we really need (and many of us desire) is to return to the days where we relied on our skills and each other for survival.
I think we should learn from this great gathering together of grandparents. Isn’t it interesting to see the example that they are setting for us? I know that some elderly find it a blow to the ego to have to live in an old folks or retirement home, and that they perceive it as a loss of their freedom, but I know that my grandparents are enjoying their life in community.
I feel that many of the freedoms that we feel entitled to in this society in fact enslave us at the soul level, whether it be to debt, work, or even the insatiable drive to attain (objects or goals).
It is such a vicarious place to stand in a world that presently requires adherence for survival.
That my basic needs require that I work for things that I don’t even want is absurd!
Sure, I want food, shelter, clothing and the like, but not like this!!!
So where do we start? How can we get in close physical proximity to each other?