As I arrived in San Francisco, looking to the outside world like a free-wheelin’ hippie-ish-stylin’ anti-war activist and revolutionary, the one important thing I had going for me was determination. I hoped to land in community. I started off with one friend — Melody, who I knew from my year in Chicago. We found an apartment in San Francisco and another roommate, Jeff. I worked in a hippie jewelry store on Haight St. Instead of going to the gym, we got our exercise in the streets demonstrating and spent endless hours in committee meetings. But things eventually fell apart, as people set off in different directions, joined “collectives” — food co-ops, documentary film-making (Newsreel), radical theatre (the Mime Troupe) etc etc. Eventually some people joined pre-party or party formations. (In my mind this meant people taking on “working class” jobs and endlessly debating the merits of Stalin vs Trotsky vs Mao — ideological distinctions I knew to be important, but that frankly bored me to smithereens, as did “working class” jobs, which I already had — from necessity, not politics). While some discussed the need for armed struggle. I had no inclination in that direction either. What kind of sorry revolutionary was I? An independent one, I decided. I continued to hold high anti-imperialist ideals, but I was losing myself and what direction my own life might take as parts of the Left took up “armed struggle”, and the other parts fractured a hundred ways to Sunday. One needed to be hardy to join the in-fighting. I wasn’t.
I bought a one-way ticket to Europe ($135), where my aloneness was not as painful. Where Marie-Helene invited me to live for awhile in her 7th floor, cold-water walk-up. Where Pierre took me on his motorcycle to the family farm in Evreux and to visit friends in tiny ancient villages south of Paris. Everything and everyone was foreign to me, as I was to them; I was enchanted, and there, it made sense that I didn’t understand much of anything. I tried to find community in Europe too, but after six months and a very wild ride (through England, France, Spain, Morocco, Italy, and Germany), not only hadn’t I found it, I was exhausted and broke. I returned to America, to my parents’ home to rest and recover (thank goodness for parents!) and make my next escape. As quickly as I could. Back to San Francisco,
I found a partner, who became a husband. We had a child. Our troika formed a tiny but extremely significant community for a time.
The partnership ended (in its marriage form) after 12 years (then endured as friendship & family), and the single child eventually moved far away across the country.
When she moved, I thought surely I would die of loneliness. There was good in my life, but I couldn’t feel it, and the loneliness and lack of a sense of community felt murderous.
Community is the one thing I think I have always longed for. Or maybe I am fooling myself. Maybe I have longed for the independence I have actually achieved. But I love the idea of community. I believe it takes a “village” to raise a child and a community for adults to thrive. It’s a belief arising from my intimacy with loneliness, not with an experience of the challenges of living with (or up against) someone else’s rules (except as a child). I pretty much make my own. So I’m not certain about my belief. Still. I hold it, and hold it dear.
The olden days of stable extended family, neighborhood, and church communities are mostly gone, for most of us. Also gone are the days of living in one community and having one job for a lifetime. Now, with great mobility and other factors, we leave communities and jobs with some frequency, and count ourselves lucky if we find the next one.
I’ve worked hard to find and create communities I could feel at home in. I don’t rest easy in these new-ish, somewhat untested forms. Still it is what I have been able to find, to make, to co-create.
I’ll start with my latest one. The Stonestown YMCA. I joined in January of this year on the advice of my nutritionist who said, Good! you’ve lost weight; bad! you’ve also lost muscle. Who said, You need to work out and build muscle.
At the Y, I see more people I know from more different disconnected parts of my life than in any other single place in San Francisco. While I do my thrice-weekly workout, I contemplate the community. The friendly, helpful staff. The people who work out. The old the young the super-able-bodied the post-stroke the developmentally-disabled the babies and toddlers in the nursery so-the-mom’s-can-work-out-as-part-of-their-membership the school-age children in groups from summer day camps the overweight the trim the muscled the many skin tones the languages the smiles the super old and healthy 80-and-90-something-year-olds.
Like Lucille. I love Lucille. She is my friend and fellow nurse Sasha’s mother-in-law. I didn’t know that when Lucille and I first met and became friends over neighboring machines. Lucille is 93, attractive, dresses well, and always has a super nifty pair of colorful knee socks on. She is always smiling, and always makes me feel I have just made her day. In fact, after our short conversations, she often tells me with a smile and sincerity I wouldn’t dare question — You have just made my day! I believe she means this because that’s how Lucille is. She lets the good in life make her day. I’ve no doubt a lot of Lucille’s day is made up of people “making her day”. She generously lets them know that, spreading and magnifying the joy. With Lucille in my community, I feel very open-hearted and connected.
I feel a sense of community growing in my women’s groups that have been meeting regularly for years.
I feel a sense of community with writers (mostly women, but a few men) I’ve been in writing workshops with. These relationships seem to survive short and long physical distances because we “hook up” on Facebook. Every now and then I’m met with the possibility of meeting up in person. Which totally makes my day.
Also on Facebook, I rely on my FB friends to turn me on to their thoughtful reflections, the best articles, videos, humor, beauty, vacation and family photos. I love my Facebook friends. Like Lucille says, they make my day. Pretty much every day. I take a break from my FB community at my own risk.
I feel some sense of community in my neighborhood, though it’s weak. I have great neighbors. Really, really nice people. At the same time, all of them are very busy. There’s little time to even run into each other on the street, let alone get together. I try to nurture this along by hosting occasional neighborhood get togethers (others occasionally do this too), but still, it is hard to build community if the ‘time” and “energies’ aren’t there. Maybe I need to be more like Lucille and tell them, whenever we’ve had a short conversation, how much they’ve “made my day”. It’s usually true, though I usually fail to say it out loud. Sometimes Andrea and Gigi (who live across the street) knock on my door. Even if I’m still in my pjs or had a notion of doing something else, I am Always, without exception, happy to see them. They are definitely part of my community and definitely make my day!
Gigi, her parents, Stephen & Andrea, and the Heart against Hate we all created last week on Ocean Beach.
The thing is this. A lot of us look for happiness from getting things checked off our bucket list. From acquiring a new big thing, or having a new big adventure. I promise you getting things only brings the most temporary happiness. No matter our degree of accomplishment or lostness (or sometimes paradoxically both at the same time), we all need community. Even if we don’t yet know we do. When we don’t have healthy ones, we eventually might hook up with unhealthy ones. Like teenagers sometimes do with gangs, like lonely and lacking-in-self-esteem white men might do with so-called “alt-right” affiliation.
Maybe if we were all more welcoming of each other into our lives and were able to build larger, more inclusive, more creative networks of community, there wouldn’t be so many lost and lonely humans falling into the depths of loneliness, or worse — into communities based in fear and hatred of the other.
I don’t know. Just wondering…
Here’s what the community of San Francisco looked like showing up to demonstrate against hate and white supremacy last weekend.
4 thoughts on “it takes a village for adults too…”
I ponder this thought of community regularly, while still busy with work and too tired to work on the community part knowing that it is an essential part to feeling connected once I retire. In this troubled world it seems easier to just draw inward to insulate one’s self from the horror we see unfolding around us. Yet it’s more important than ever to make the effort. It enforces the idea that we are all part of a large village even when we don’t agree with one another. I have a few friends who I know voted for Trump and part of me wants to distance myself from them. When I make conscious connections with them it reminds me that we are all human (and flawed) but most of us are good at heart and I realize it’s important not to cut away this part of my community. Anyway, rambling here, but love the piece. It’s thoughtful and heartfelt.
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Thx Terri I love what you wrote too. Appreciate the difficulty when you’re busy with a full time job… Yes, beyond your job, you ARE creating community with your Casitas rowing club, your work on the Board of Las Padres Forest Preserve, and all the environmental volunteer stuff you do. All that work is also part of community building, which is the voluntary joining of efforts to make something better. Paid work places are a community unto themselves, which the feeling of membership in is hard to sustain once a person resigns or retires. But the voluntary things go a long way to build community. That and acceptance of our flawed selves and friends. Love you! xo
Love this piece, Gayle. Thank you.
A couple of thoughts: Just yesterday, I was talking with a group of long-time women friends, definitely a community. I mentioned (again!) my sense of wanting what might be called a “community with a shared purpose”.
Unlike you, I guess, I found that in the political movements of the ’60s and ’70s, living communally, sharing stories in a women’s consciousness raising group, working and marching together against the war and on various other political issues. Also dancing. Lots of dancing! And beaches. . . because sharing houses and cars and childcare and even our money. . . and also because housing and other basics were so cheap. . . . we didn’t have to work that much in order to live well. We had a whole lot more time to play, dance, go to the beach on hot days (like this one!), than is true for folks today. Play is good for community building, as you point out.
This feeling of love and support for one another did begin to change for me as the movement and its communities became smaller and more isolated from other communities, lines were more and more drawn between right and wrong, us and them, “pure” and “flawed”. But I think that until I retired, I have been fortunate to have landed in communities of purpose my whole life–as a revolutionary, a social worker (especially during the AIDS years), and even as a mother, interacting day after day with a group of people who became friends as we worked to together to make the world a better place for ourselves, our families and all beings.
Now I live alone, no longer go off to work, have no young child for whom I responsible. I’m not sure that I would call it loneliness. In one sense I have many communities, feel supported by many friends with whom I stay connected on Facebook and as much as possible face to face. But still. . .like you. . .looking for the feeling of community I used to enjoy.
One other thing my friends pointed out yesterday was the difference between living in a small town and a city. Two of my friends used to live in Oakland and Berkeley, but now live in rural areas where they see friends from their small towns every time they go shopping or to the doctor. Everybody knows everybody, which I used to think would be terribly boring and lacking in privacy, but now see that it can have its advantages as well. My friends from Southern Humboldt and Montana have found that building a community of shared purpose was easier in a place that, because of its size, was already a community of shared place. Maybe you’ve experienced this in the Delta?
Yes, exactly Anita. I do experience “community” every time I visit the Delta. I always feel like welcome visitor, but only as a friend of the community, not a member. I can see how rubbing up against each other closely as they do in an extremely small town (population about 70), polishes one’s edges and one learns to accept and sometimes even celebrate differences, sharing the good and bad times.
It’s the “daily-ness of community that I have never felt like I’ve really had — the experience of your friends in Montana and Humboldt. I’m not always at every moment lonely, and I didn’t mean to imply that. Mostly I am just alone, and when I am feeling physically and emotionally well, and have a project or two in hand, and manage to get out at least once in the day to experience human contact and hopefully human engagement, I am fine. But all those criteria are not always at play, so loneliness is a not infrequent visitor. I have no idea what to do about it, other than see it, acknowledge the truth of it, have compassion for myself and the millions of others who are in a similar or worse situation, and keep doing what I do to experience as much joy, beauty, and connection as I can. You are indeed fortunate to have had that rich young adulthood of a community of friends who shared your political views and activities who you have continued over these many years to be in intermittent active community with, plus having that boyfriend of yours (albeit long distance), as an ongoing relationship and travel-mate. Pretty cool.