Well, hey there, Essay a Day community. You thought I'd left you, didn't you. But no--I am here. Neglectful, but not GONE...
Four of us sit around my living room this morning, talking over coffee mugs and still-steaming pumpkin bread. Funny stories about weddings--and one funeral. Frustrations over children and schools. Tissue-less, I provide a roll of toilet paper for some tears.
The last came as one woman voiced a hurt that is still too fresh, years gone in memory, for me to hear without sharing still. (And glimpses of it are still too frequently felt to forget.) How it is possible to be in a crowd and be alone, how you can know people and be unknown, a veteran and asked if you are new? How are those walls so thickly there, and not. How we think we're crazy for feeling them. How not talking about them only adds another layer of glassy brick.
It took me three years, I say. A familiar opening--I've used it before. Three years in this place--in this city, at this church--before I felt immersed in community, a real part of a larger thing. Like I could pick up the phone and meet someone for coffee without a reason. Like I could sit on your couch even after the food was eaten and planned discussion had.
Why is it so hard to establish real, deep community? Blame was quickly assigned to technology, to the speed of life, but this struggle runs farther below the surface than that, and we all know it. Even as we sit, I can picture a similar scene run back through history: the crooked color photos on the wall are replaced with paintings, our sweatpants with layers of smooth, starched linen. Women talking, feeling out where the boundaries are, where the defenses rest. Still more years, and the walls are bare logs, the clothing simple and stained. More, and the walls fade to just dark unknown, and the coffee table becomes a well-kept fire spiraling smoke up into the stars. I don't pretend that this same conversation, peppered with first-world problems, has remained the same for millennia--but I think the underpinnings could be easily recognized. Who are you? Are we this close? Is it okay to say----? And slowly, agreements, body language, laughter, tears--this strange language from outside our purposeful selves graces to the one across the room: Yes.
Claims that the world held on us slowly draws each woman, one by one, from her chair. She puts her mug in the sink, she slips her purse over her arm, she closes the door behind her, each motion an act of preparing, of replacing the armor that this world requires. By the time they are halfway down the street and I am putting the kitchen chairs back at the table, we have already slipped into the rhythm of normal, of guarded, of closed.