Longing for Community

January 27, 2012

I am still trying to figure out the purpose of this blog. I know I want to communicate my thoughts, but I don’t know to whom. I know I would like to connect with others, but I find it hard to make meaningful connections in my day to day life. I think my angst can all be boiled down to this: I long for community.

I going to try really hard not to wax all nostalgic about the 50s. I wasn’t there and I know those who were are the same ones telling us they walked to school, up-hill — both ways!! But at the same time, I can’t help but feel robbed that I am living a 50s life with all the work, but none of the perks.

In many ways I am a stereotypical stay-at-home mom who does the laundry, manages the finances, cooks all the meals, and keeps track of the kids. But I don’t have a mom nearby who drops in occasionally with a casserole and hosts big Sunday dinners. I don’t have a neighbor who looks after my kids so I can run to the grocery store. I don’t have a brother who can fix the car once in awhile. And my husband does not have a job that offers a pension and premium health care giving us security about the future. For all the advances we have made in personal choice and feminism, I can’t help but feel we did it at the expense of security, stability, and community.

If anything I long for pioneer days — an entire family living on their own land, raising chickens and a cow or a goat, tending the gardens, working untainted, nutrient-rich soil. Grandpa rocking on the porch keeping an eye on the kids. Going into town, buying, selling, and trading with a small group of people that not only know you, but need you. All of a sudden that appeals to me.

Maybe to better understand what we’ve lost, it would be a good idea to examine what we have now. We do not have communities anymore. What we have are networks (that we often mistake for communities . We have our work network and school network. Some have a church group, other’s a mom network. Kids have their soccer network, and their karate network. But very few of these overlap, so our lives become compartmentalized. We are constantly packing and unpacking our various faces throughout the day and week. [1]

Before I go poking around the edges of this concept, let me try to illustrate it with a quote. John Gatto, an award-winning, New York schoolteacher who now writes books questioning the education system, explains:

Networks, however, don’t require the whole person, but only a narrow piece. If you function in a network, it asks you to supress [sic] all the parts of yourself except the network-interest part — a highly unnatural act although one you can get used to. In exchange, the network will deliver efficiency in the pursuit of some limited aim. This is, in fact, a devil’s bargain, since on the promise of some future gain, one must surrender the wholeness of one’s present humanity. If you enter into too many of these bargains you will split yourself into many specialized pieces, none of them completely human[….]The fragmentation caused by excessive networking creates diminished humanity, a sense our lives are out of control because they are.

That message really speaks to me. “Our lives are out of control.” Don’t get me wrong, I get through my days well enough. I love my husband, my kids, and my family. I like what I do most days. But sometimes I feel so very alone. I talk to acquaintances everyday on Facebook, but can’t remember the last time a friend came over to chat and have coffee. If I want to have the kids next-door over, we have to move heaven and earth to schedule a “playdate.” If I manage to get some other moms over from Meetup.com all we talk about is diapers and extra-curriculars. No one dares offend by bringing up politics, and no one cares enough to ask if you have read anything interesting lately.

Granted, I never felt this way before having kids. But I don’t blame my family. I think in my “previous life” I just never slowed down for long enough to think about anything. Funny thing about taking care of kids… your feet are always moving, but your brain has time to churn. All of a sudden things matter again. It matters to me that we are destroying our foreign relations. It matters that to me that Congress is locked into partisan politics and will not budge. It matters to me that the rate of obesity is skyrocketing, and it matters to me that kids are graduating high school and college unprepared to contribute to society. For a few years now, I have been feeling really dejected and hopeless about these issues. I threw myself into just raising the best family I could and ignoring the rest of the world, and I stumbled upon a strange idea. The things I do have control over, are the things that can turn it all around.

Well, that’s all the time we have for today folks! Johnny just stumbled by like an old man looking for coffee (except he’s looking for PBS Kids). I better feed the horde and start my day!

[1] Diagrams were inspired by the article “Real Community“, from the Kingdom Watcher website.
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2 Responses to “Longing for Community”

  1. Community must be filled with action. I think that's the message you and I both are trying to convey. Community is great to talk about, but it must be followed by boldness to build it.

  2. But how do we build it? I feel like that "voice crying out in the wilderness." Time and again I reach out and come up empty. How do we connect with others? How do we bring about change when our neighbors never open their doors or come outside? Is this just happening where I live or do others see this to?

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