Last November I returned to the states for a rare, unhurried week with my mom’s side of the family. Though the circumstances surrounding my trip were somber and the fact of my grandmother’s passing surreal, our time together was sweet as Mema’s plum preserves – I got to know my family a little deeper.
One 22-year-old cousin took a particular interest in our Mexico experience. Maybe – just maybe – she would convince her dad to let her come down for a visit. “Yea, right,” I thought, fully aware of my uncle’s stubborn stance against this death-wish of an idea.
A few days after returning south, however, I received an email from Lexi. Not only was she coming to visit, but she was bringing Chloe, her 21-year-old sister, and staying for three and a half months!
First of all, anyone who steps out of their comfort zone, instigates an impromptu semester abroad and buys their tickets on a whim meets my minimum criteria for pretty awesome. But for two (bright, charming, talented, attractive) young ladies to ignore the forewarnings of the fearful and head south despite all misguided, media-molested Mexico malarky? That takes some serious ovarian gonads.
Their time here came to an end just yesterday (though I suspect they’ll be back before too long). I can’t begin to tell you how much fun we had. The kind of fun some people go for years without experiencing because they’ve either forgotten it was possible or they’ve told themselves some bullshit about being too busy or they’ve become accustomed to taking life real seriously (been there, done all three). The kind of fun amplified by a stepping out of the ordinary, a letting go of expectations and a willingness to be vulnerable to whatever life has to hand you (from private surf instruction to public village shit holes). The kind of fun accompanied by utter contentment, a total lack of want and fits of laughter more therapeutic than all the finest counsel combined.
So naturally, I’ve given a good deal of thought to what it is that encourages such rich and pleasant living. Are my cousins really just that awesome? Well, yes, actually they are, but that doesn’t explain the incredible weeks and months we’ve spent with other long-term house guests during our time here (there have been many).
I think the answer is just about as basic as being born…we are creatures created to live in community. While I could write a book on this singular subject (and I just might), for now it seems most important to share my recent experience of communal living (when did this beautiful term acquire a negative connotation?), while it’s still fresh on my mind and has hold of my heart.
What I Love About Living in Community
- Life feels lighter. I’m pretty sure that we made a joke out of just about every difficult, absurd and overwhelming situation that came up while they were here. Considering how many such experiences are inherent to raising children, living in a foreign country, speaking a new language and fighting parasites, that’s a lot of weight lifted.
- Empathy is abundant. No matter how deep my capacity for empathy, four daughters and an overtly attention-loving husband manage to dry my well from time to time. So when one kid is sobbing over her cereal about the stain on her new skirt and another is melting fast over her present pre-pubescent plight, it’s SO NICE to be able to continue chopping my chard while someone else offers a shoulder to cry on. And frankly, sometimes a 21-year-old has more wisdom to offer her 11-year-old cousin than a 34-year-old mama whose own pre-pubescence is 13 years more distant a memory.
- Many hands make light work. While I can’t say our house is any less disastrous when we have company, it sure is more fun washing dishes while someone’s drying, prepping a picnic while the laundry’s being folded and managing the morning meltdowns with a dork-out dance party.
- There is wisdom in every age. For whatever they gained from me and my maternal madness, I can say with all honesty that I gained just as much from them and their uninhibited enthusiasm. We are all simply living and learning as we go. There is no less wisdom to be gained from one age than another.
- I like it real. There’s nothing like seeing folks as they first roll out of bed, or curled up in a fetal position with amoeba-induced stomach cramps or yelling at their kids or fussing over some self-perceived body image issue to remind you how real people are. I don’t know how many times I heard or said, “Would you shut up. Your butt is not even big – not that it matters.” I think we need constant reminders of reality in the face of so much societal distortion. Equally important, there’s nothing like helping run a household to dissolve any notions about how dreamy it would be to settle down and have a mess of babies. They’ll not soon forget the insanity, I assure you.
- Women need women. I haven’t always known this, or admitted it. For many years, I clung tight to my perception that a woman’s strength was determined by how well she handled things on her own. Today, I couldn’t disagree more. Women have always raised children together, washed clothes together, shared stories and anecdotes, songs and sorrows. Pretending that women are intended to handle it all alone is like saying mother wolves are better off separated from their packs. We are no less mammal nor solitary a species.
- Men are pretty neat, too. Though Hunter was hilariously outnumbered these past few months (even more so than usual) there were no shortage of opportunities for reflections about (and admiration over) boys, men, marriage and “mistakes” worth learning from. I think young 20-somethings need perspective regarding relationships from thirty-somethings. Likewise, there’s nothing quite like advising someone not-yet-committed to make me take an honest look at my own decisions through the years.
- It takes a village. For real. It’s ironic how often this phrase is used and yet how un-village-like we’ve grown accustomed to living. Our three month experiment, combined with years raising kids in a society that promotes independence over community and most recently, the examples I’ve seen in both indigenous and modernized Mexican culture have solidified a hunch I’ve had for years…community is cornerstone to the formation of healthy individuals, families and culture. Try as we may to fill the void created in its absence, our energies may be better spent assessing the ways we’ve become disconnected, determining our natural-born gifts and using them to build community wherever we are. Some things need not be improved upon, only preserved and revered.
“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.