So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about community. The community that I long to have is starkly different from the community that I currently have. I dream about a community that starts with friends and grows to include spouses and children. I dream about our kids growing up together, seeing each other often and spontaneously, playing in the streets and running back and forth between houses, sharing snacks and swimsuits, sharing Thanksgiving and New Years Eve and the Fourth of July.
I dream of close friends who have “been there through thick and thin,” who show up at each other’s homes with meals and Kleenex and go out for girls’ nights and pedicures. I imagine my children growing up with a small circle of other adult figures around them, friends and mentors of mine who pray for them and help parent them, who fill in where I lack (anyone want to sew a Halloween costumes?) and who attend my kids’ weddings while recalling their first birthdays.
I am often frustrated, here in New York City, because my community doesn’t look like this. We only know a handful of people who live within walking distance and their kids aren’t necessarily the same ages (or on the same schedules) as my kids. Seeing friends who live in other parts of the city is fun and important, but also hard and a hassle. Planning an entire day around one get-together doesn’t make for that many get-togethers.
And then there are all the different communities – there are a few friends and many acquaintances from church. We don’t live near our church (by NYC standards), so most of these folks we only see on Sundays. And on Sundays, I am generally running after our toddler, who unfailingly tries to run out of the coffee hour room and up every flight of stairs. Over and over and over again. I never drink an actual COFFEE at coffee hour and rarely am able to have a conversation for more than two minutes with more than two people. So much for checking in and catching up, for sharing prayer requests and comparing notes on weekend activities.
Then there’s our Bible study community group. Or my Mom’s Group. Or alumni from the Gotham fellowship program I participated in last year. Similar stories, different people. Friends whom I want to hang out with and share life with, but logistically it’s just too difficult to see them more than once a month. There are friends whom I get to know and grow to love, and then they move to a new neighborhood (or we do), have (more) kids (or we do), leave the city, start a new school, join a different program. Or new friends who I soon realize are already ensconced (somehow) in a community, complete with their own best-friend-couples and children of similar ages.
I moved to New York because I was lucky enough to have a spot in a fantastic fellowship program (now called Ensemble ACJW) that brought about twenty other young, talented musicians to the city to encourage us and support us and train us and provide us with some amazing opportunities. Since my years in that program, life has changed in dramatic ways for many of us – some of my classmates have moved away, others have gotten married, many have new jobs (and the new communities that come with them – as I also had). A few of us now have children. I’m slowly getting to know the other musicians from the program who have kids, who also (happen to) live in my neighborhood, who also are texting their babysitters during rehearsals and running home to pump after a concert.
My neighborhood is filled with families. On the weekends, every picnic table at the nearest park is covered with plastic tablecloths, and grills start to smoke early in the morning. These families are always welcoming, smiling at my toddler when he unabashedly runs up to their table and helps himself to their fried chicken or a handful of Fritos. But my Spanish isn’t good enough to have a conversation with most of them, and they all seem happily ensconced in their own families and extended communities. They smile at me and my blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy, but we are not a part of them.
Our neighborhood is slowly gentrifying, however (a conversation in its own right), and I mostly love this. A) Two (!!) places to get good espresso have opened in the last fifteen months, and B) a few other friends from my “church world” and “music world” have started to relocate nearby.
My closest friends don’t live in New York. These friends whom I most want to do life with live scattered across the US with their families and children and jobs. We talk often – but it’s difficult to have a complete conversation, when a toddler runs off with the iphone while one of us is nursing or a kindergartener needs to be picked up from school mid-thought. Our kids are learning to love each other through FaceTime, but I sometimes wonder if they would recognize each other in real time. These friends I’ve known 34, 15, 8 years, but we’ll never get to share the details of our lives together, never get to see our kids hunt Easter eggs or trick-or-treat or watch the Thanksgiving day parade together. We’ll never be the ones to hold nervous hands at the ER or meet each other’s newborns when they are merely hours old.
I was complaining about this to a friend about a year ago. A woman a bit older than me and much wiser, she was on my list of “women I want to be friends with.” But of course her kids are also slightly older and she is already maxed out with her part-time job and her own kids’ schools and schedules. (I realized that, as much as I liked her, I should take her off the “new best friend?” list that I kept in my head.) But she said this to me:
You know, Leah, you can’t be so picky. This isn’t a time in your life when you are going to have twenty best friends. And also, you don’t need twenty. You just need one, really. And that one, you might not even see very often. My best friend? We text each other. We sit on our couches, in our own living rooms, and she drinks wine and I drink beer, and we watch the same TV shows while our kids are asleep in their own beds and our husbands are at work. And we text each other. This is our friendship right now, and it’s ok.
And she’s right. What we have is okay.
I have friends from Bible study and from Mom’s Group and from Gotham. I have friends with whom I’ve played in Carnegie Hall and friends with whom I’ve played dress-up. I have friends who are married with kids and friends who aren’t. I don’t have one best friend and I don’t have one community of women or families who all know and love each other and live in the same zip code and go to the same church and have the same kinds of jobs.
And that’s okay.
Part of my community lives in New York and part of my community does not. I have a community at church and I am finding a community in our neighborhood.
And that’s okay.
I dreamed of one community.
I have many communities.
And that’s okay.
And now, I, too, have friends whom I text from my couch at night, while our kiddos are sleeping and our husbands are working. And we ask each other, “So what should we drink tonight? Do you want red, or white?”
What is or was YOUR dream for community? What do you long for? What’s your community like now? What do you love and what would you change?