I live with five amazing people and a rescued stray cat in a 99-year-old house. The past two weeks have been idyllic: together we've eaten dinner, made raspberry jam, explored the city, planted a garden, played board games. Recently we celebrated our housemate's birthday by putting silly signs all over the house for her to find (The toilet flushes, "Happy Birthday, Michelle!"). Since this is the first year an LVC group has lived in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood, we have been given the charge to name our house for future generations. We've narrowed it down to five potential names, and while we won't make a decision for at least another week or two I' can tell you that "Wellstone Ho use" is looking like a pretty good possibility (named after the late Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila, who championed progressive change in Minnesota and were very connected to the communities they served). All in all, these people are marvelous; they are sources of joy.
Those who take refuge in community while fleeing from themselves are misusing it to indulge in empty talk and distraction, no matter how spiritual this idle talk and distraction may appear. In reality, they are not seeking community at all, but only a thrill that will allow them to forget their isolation for a short time. It is precisely this misuse of community that creates the deadly isolation of human beings. Such attempts to find healing result in the undermining of speech and all genuine experience and, finally, resignation and spiritual death. "Whoever cannot be alone should beware of community." Such people will only do harm to themselves and to the community.... But the reverse is also true. "Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone." --Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Life Together"
The Bonhoeffer quote above is in good, if dislocating, conversation with this experience. With such creative, nice people, I should not be surprised to find myself taking refuge in community and fleeing from myself. When I first heard these words from "Life Together" during orientation, they echoed loudly around the barren space that I've been carrying inside of me for a while. That part of me where vitality has a difficult time taking root, a part of me that is in dire need of greening by the Spirit. I've written about this barrenness in previous posts, and recently it's been emerging in similar fashions. I've been harboring resentment-- sometimes without realizing, even-- which has been making me tired, distracted, and feeling as though I am less-than. I still have yet to unpack my room; something seems to be holding me back. But I need to: in this one, tiny instance I need to stir up some creative love in my life-- or invite some in-- and transform the imposing brown wallpaper of my attic room, or else I will suffocate in the place where I am supposed to be able to be alone and in peace. I look at some of my housemates' rooms, and they are bursting with personality, memory, meaning. I hear Bonhoeffer's words and fear the entropy that will leek into this community like radiation, and the need to resist becomes more pressing.
I also need to reach out-- not necessarily to these people whom I have only known for three weeks, but to friends from the East Coast. I'm in love with Minnesota, home of the "All the Milk You Can Drink for a Dollar" deal at the State Fair and of coffee-flavored beer from Surly Brewing Company. But this past week has been peppered with missing folks something awful. Last night I had a dream in which I went to a big party and saw a whole host of people from college, and when I woke up I wondered whether I will ever see some of those people again. It was surreal and sad. All this week I've had similar experiences, and I'll think of the person in Virginia or Pennsylvania who would relate. Frankly at this point in time I don't feel comfortable unloading to my housemates, in spite of their being creative and compassion people. Thus, to sustain my spirit and to hold up my end of the friendship deal, I need to make some phone calls and write some letters.
Because she's been providing some wisdom and solace lately, I'll leave you with some Mary Oliver. A couple of my housemates have a real passion for Mary Oliver's poetry, which I can appreciate. This is poem is "Wild Geese."
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.