On Community

I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.

Last week I went to the laundromat and felt like I walked through the door of a TV show. The owner was this jovial friendly man in his sixties. He chatted with me about life, the cold weather and living in Dunedin. I went in with stuff to do. You know that feeling? I was ready to multitask as my clothes dried. I wasn’t happy I had to be at the laundromat once again. I was annoyed my dryer was broken to be honest and irritated I had to waste an hour sitting in this cold building. I brought some work and was ready not to “waste” my time. But I had stumbled upon this fascinating little community.

Person after person came in and started their laundry. As they entered they greeted the owner and he asked about their kids, their jobs, their grand kids, their animals. I smiled as I listened. Then one lady asked the owner how old his son was now. He wandered to the back as he answered her, “He’s sixteen. Can you believe it?” At the same time he was pulling out a photograph of his handsome son. He was bragging on his latest sporting feat and the strength that he has gained over the last year.

What in the world? Who knew there was a little laundromat community? I felt like I was a guest lucky enough to observe these relationships. I define community as people doing life together because of a common cause or choice to be together. You don’t always have to choose your community and sometimes my best communities I wouldn’t have chosen as friends.

For whatever reason I couldn’t shake this moment at the laundromat. I love watching people and relationships, but it wasn’t that. I felt jealous. They had 20 years of history some of these people. I found myself with an aching heart. I don’t have a community of people in this new city yet. I know people and I’m working towards it, but it’s been hard going here. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s the cultural difference. Maybe it’s past pain that communities have left me. Pain sometimes comes with community. People are fallible and when you hang out with people you often bump into people’s junk and worse yet others bump into yours.

Shortly after this experience we headed to Queenstown for a family getaway. While there we went and visited an old friend of Sam’s who recently had a baby. I loved seeing my husband have a effortless conversation. I watched them slip right into a friendship exactly where they left off. My heart ached again. I smiled. I chatted. I was genuinely happy for my husband but my eyes threatened to sting with tears. My husband later commented how good it feels to catch up with a friend you have so much history with. No explaining. No small talk. Just pure ease. I simultaneously felt delighted for my husband and so deeply sad that my effortless friends with history are a very long plane ride away.

I have had 2 communities since living in New Zealand. One I was so excited to come back to after being in America. I was married now and couldn’t wait to jump into these old friends who were married now that I had a husband. I envisioned hanging out, coffees and dinners, and even dreamed so far as thinking of vacationing together. The reality was the community fell apart before my eyes. It was sad for me. I think I’m still grieving it at moments. It made me a bit “gun shy” to share my life with anyone else. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, just a series of very very unfortunate events tangled in with my culture shift from America to New Zealand.

After Max was born I stumbled into my antenatal group (pre baby classes New Zealand offers then encourages you to keep getting together as moms). I can remember before all our babies were born sitting in classes thinking there is no way I’m going to be friends with any of these women. They are so different. They all have such stable lives and I felt like a royal mess. After Max was about three months old I mustered up the courage to go. I wore my cutest outfit and put Max is some cool clothes (like that mattered! But somehow it helped me feel brave) and off I trudged. I was petrified. Then it happened. I relaxed. It wasn’t so bad. Lesley kept pouring over Max and saying how cute he was. Tanya chatted with me and I fell in love with her infectious laugh. Danielle and I joked about our schedule personalities. Claire made me laugh. Katie’s sweet smile put me at ease. Celeste and I connected on going to America to see family soon. Jenny hosted so calmly and fed us yummy food and Esther made me laugh out loud.

I left not with a close friend. But I left with hope that day. As I drove by the beach on the way home I looked at the ocean and thought to myself maybe I can give it one more go. And I did. I loved that group. I love their kiddos. I loved how unselfish and real the group was. I loved that no one competed. I was even honest about some hard stuff that I was embarrassed about going on in my life. I felt like I finally breathed a sigh of relief. Then we moved. I was so excited for this next journey I couldn’t wait, but I was so sad to leave this group.

I came to my new city thinking it would happen again. I tried quite a few groups and it just hasn’t gelled. It’s hard. It’s a bummer. It’s not ideal. I like doing life with others even though I’m terrified of it. I’m trying again, slowly but surely. It might happen. It might not. That’s the thing about community. Sometimes it’s so good you don’t realise how special what you have is in life until you no longer have it. Sometimes it comes with little or no effort so you don’t realise how precious and hard to create it again it is.

I will get up and try again. I’m not my best self in this season. Most days I’m not super fun to be around so it makes it hard to invite others in for me. People will most likely love me. They might not but they might. The thing is for me a lot of times community heals me. People around me brings out my best. I wish it wasn’t so hard. I wish it was instant but once you have tasted real community it ruins you. You know it’s out there and no matter how many times I tell myself I’m never doing that again it hurt too bad I’m drawn back into hoping. Hoping because I know what could be and what might be.

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