Crabtrees, we always joke, have PhDs in hanging out. We'd wake up to feed the always starving kids, then sit in the kitchen with coffee, talking. Even though we had been up till 1 playing cards the night before, cracking ourselves up. I noted with surprise one morning that it was 11:15 and we'd been up since 9, not moving from our perches on the kitchen island, a piece of furniture beautifully crafted by Raye. I also decompressed my first few days sitting on the deck looking at the river, not talking to anyone. I lack that sort of community as well in my busy life: the chance to reconnect with myself in real time.
I grew up in a community by default, one of nine kids in a rural small town. Our friends were over often, we spent our days at church, dance class, sports teams. Even mom stopping at the grocery store for two items would turn into 45 minutes as she'd bump into person after person in the store. We'd explore the woods into the twilight and swim in the river for entertainment. We named all of the rocks and played games back and forth between them.
I never knew what it was like, being alone, as being part of the constant hum of community became the pulse of my adulthood. I moved into Seattle and joined a dorm. Then an apartment, always with roommates, then into a house just off campus with two girlfriends. I studied abroad in England with a big group of English majors, and formed a close group of friends post-college who spent weekends together camping and weekday evenings at dive bars playing pool.
I can look back over the 00s and trace how the decline of community paralleled the rise of technology. I remember one of the first text phones in Hawaii in 2001, when a friend texted her boyfriend from dinner. Annoyed, fascinated and perplexed by technology, I wondered why she had to contact him then, when there were four of us there in person to talk and laugh with.
But I got sucked into it as well. I embraced the idea of texting once I realized its convenience. The social people person in me loved the novelty of MySpace, as I lived in a state far away from anyone I grew up with. I saw the satisfaction of sharing in other people's lives when I was unable to see them on a regular basis.
Once I became a mom, moms groups helped me rekindle my sense of community. Slowly, though, as life became more busy and complicated and stressful, I resorted more and more to social media and texting. Friends made and cancelled plans as we tended to overextend and overbook ourselves, and I shared many conversation about social media being an quick yet semi-satisfying way to interact and feel connected. How easily though, on an every day basis, it became a smokescreen to fill the void of real life friendship.
I love living in a neighborhood now where I run with my friend and neighbor in the mornings and we catch up. We have parties and can walk home; our kids all play together. Social media and texting work great for solidifying those interactions, but they can never take the place of them. I fall prey to the ease and convenience of Facebook and have to watch myself get sucked up into the vortex. It connects people, yes, both near and far, but can also replace to the point where you forget the meaningful, simple joy of a hug or eye contact or clinking glasses together in a toast.
This year in my recently completed yoga training program, I again felt the draw of community. The group of 14 of us - 11 students, 3 teachers - spent six months together, all weekend long, every other weekend. I didn't realize how much I missed group dynamics until I found myself immersed in one. You get to know people fast in close quarters, discussing vulnerabilities and sharing life stories. Yoga means "union." Studying it unites the physical to spiritual, body to mind, breath to movement, but also person to person. We learned how to make meaningful connections without trying to shape or change or advise. I left that program feeling renewed and inspired by the energy shared in that space.
I am challenging myself to make more time for community this season, once the craze of summer ends. To schedule weekly dates with Brendan, once a month girls night outs, more get togethers with neighbors. More catch up sessions with my YTT peops, who are part of my story even though I’ve only known most of them since January. I am taking Facebook off my phone and calling one family member once a week, in addition to texting and sharing pics like we already do. I want to hear the voices of people I love more and not be content with just a vague notion of how they are are based on news-feeds or Instagram pics.
Because virtual communities can easily create an edited version of the truth. We all do it, modify and filter to craft what we want others to see. This almost innate social tendency has tremendous appeal in presenting an image, the best (or worst) of what we want to show. But only part of our lives contain the "shareable" moments. Real life and community also includes disagreements and tears, the forgiveness and the hugging it out.
I'm not looking for a pay phone anytime soon, but I am going to give my text fingers and screen-tired eyes a bit of a break. And focus on community, to share myself with people in real time: flaws, snorted laughs, dramatic gestures, stupid jokes and all.