The first month  of a new year awakens my deepest  longings. As January draws to a frigid close, and North Africa awakens in the streets, I realize that one of those longings is a hunger for community.

I grew up in a place where relationships were woven as densely as underbrush. The separation between extended family and the network of close friends and near-relatives was indistinguishable; “Auntie” was a title bestowed  on any number of elders who could be trusted to look out for my well-being.

As a young adult, my tendrils extended further and wrapped themselves around friends, people who worked beside me on community projects and were companions in constructing the kind of lives we wanted to lead. I matured in the thorny shelter of family of choice, my gang of friends, and an assortment of teachers, coworkers, and neighbors who made space for me.

At some point, I discovered I didn’t need so much support and protection.  I wanted to live out in the open, far from the thicket of in-laws and cousins and committee volunteers. In my 30s and 40s, I traveled often. I found deep contentment in being alone. Estrangement became my friend.  It helped me to know who I was, without others to define my attributes and attitudes. The self-knowledge that comes from being a stranger was productive. I dreamed big, and wrote poems and plays. I moved away from the place where I was born. I lived for awhile in new cities: Paris, Geneva, Manhattan.  I settled down in a small college town. I grew strong in new ways, and learned to make space for myself.

So I am perplexed to find myself here, in my Latest Possible Forties, feeling rootless and without connection to a community. Adventure and estrangement have their costs, and I am paying them now. My closest friends are far flung; I can call or email them daily, but a hug is still a plane ride away. My nuclear family resembles Chernobyl, with the attendant intergenerational radioactive waste. Casual friends and colleagues are busy — parenting, succeeding at the peaks of their careers, or leading important community endeavors. And, like my younger self, the people around me are transient. I have learned to wait and see if someone plans to stick around before I offer them my heart.

But  there’s the rub. If I intend to live a life of significance, rich in relationship and meaningful engagement, I must begin it now. But where? And how? And most importantly, with whom?

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  • Jude  On January 31, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Love the language here so much-the description of how a why we move from community to the independence that can leave us stranded is wonderful.

  • Dawn  On January 31, 2011 at 11:15 am

    It is hard to find new friends with whom you want to give your heart… There is something about shared experience & knowledge of each others history that feels very valuable. If it was me stepping out in a new place, I would not exclude older people, those with time & openness to new things/people. To discover the richness of anothers full life can be delightful! Book clubs & Unitarian Churches 🙂 attract open minded, thinking people of all ages.
    A further thought from someone living her 60th year of intentionality: I found that in my 50’s I wanted to intentionally winnow my circle of relationships down to its essence. The people who I give my heart to are fewer, but oh so fine! I have many aquaintences as well with whom I choose to feel no social obligation to, but when I am ready for a companion, I tap into friends of like mind. It took some years & two hurt feelings to be true to my self/heart. Now if someone new happens into my life that truly fits, I have room to embrace them.

  • Laura  On February 1, 2011 at 12:39 am

    I have travelled a different journey, but arrived at the same destination. Of course, your description is far more eloquent than my whining. I too, struggle with the same quest/questions. It is nice to know I am not alone in this.

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