By Christine Jeske

Community Is Hard

Community in North America is hard.

If you disagree, fine, I’m happy for you, but it’s not my story lately.

I know it comes easy for some people in some places. I know people in neighborhoods where they can’t convince their kids to come home because they’re so busy bopping from one friend’s place to another. I know people sharing lawn mowers and washing machines, people who know everybody in a five-block radius, people who can walk into a grocery store and stand talking with nearly everyone they pass for longer than it takes to shop for a week’s groceries.

For the last two years, I have not been one of those people. It’s been hard. I have complained.

I now realize that many forces converged upon us to make lack of community feel especially harsh for the last two years. I returned to graduate school as the oldest student in my program by at least seven years, and the only one with kids. We went from home-schooling to public schooling, which meant I didn’t get those long luscious play dates in the middle of the day with like-minded moms. We returned from South Africa to the United States, leaving behind a community of expats all doing similar work overseas, bonded by our foreignness. We left behind cultures where community togetherness is a way of life — in ways it no longer is in the US. To come to this country we uprooted ourselves to move for about the 20th time in 12 years, and then we moved two more times in the United States in under two years.

So after noticing one evening just how much I sounded like a broken record every time I got into a conversation about community, I made up my mind to get specific in my prayers.

And when I get specific in prayers, usually I realize I also have to get specific in my actions.

I realized I need to make community. I could count on two hands all the people I’d had conversations with about how we all wished we had better friends, people we could see and really get into the heart of conversation, people who knew our history and cared, who asked how we’d been and listened.

That week I invited them all to get together.

We’ve been meeting for over half a year now. We get together after kids are in bed, on Tuesday nights once a month at Perkins and stay until past our normal bedtimes. We give each other advice, vent, laugh, share books, babysit each other’s kids, hand each other tissues, and do all that stuff friends are supposed to do.

When we started getting together, I wouldn’t have necessarily expected to have a lot in common with all those ladies. I’ve found ways we do have things in common, and I’ve also loved all the things we don’t have in common that we can share with each other and appreciate about each other.

Making community work is like watching the ground cover of flowers spread across the huge flowerbeds I inherited with my house. It takes more than one season. Sometimes it takes watering through droughts, pruning, composting, and work.

But I consider it well worth it.

This piece was originally posted at Chrissy’s blog, Into the Mud.

About the Author

Christine Jeske has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and teaches anthropology at Wheaton College. She has lived in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa and authored two books, Into the Mud: True Stories from Africa and This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling. She now lives in an old farmhouse named the Sanctuary, complete with a dozen chickens, three pigs, innumerable weeds, two children, and one wonderful husband.  

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