I am now typing this in my brand new address. The movers came a week ago to take the heavy furniture and the too large boxes in their (what would turn out to be too small) truck. Auntie took the little kids, school took the big ones, and an installation appointment took my Sweetheart to the new house, leaving me all alone with an open front door. Desperately needing to keep out of the way least I cause a Worker’s Compensation Board claim, I stood at the kitchen island, trying not to look indolent. The multi-coloured activity that is recess at the playground of the school down the block caught my eye. Suddenly, I realized now that I was leaving, how much I had connected myself to that swarming mass, even though they weren’t necessarily my children out there. I had a kinship to those kids and those parents that I saw everyday out my kitchen window, even when my own little ones were sitting beside me eating apple slices and Triscuits. The melancholy realization struck me that my moving way meant losing a community that I didn’t even know I had.
How much of our sense of community is more than just physical? Location, work, Church, sports — these are the easy identifiers to where we belong. But we all carry around in our heads an idea of who we belong to, and who belongs to us. Much the same way that search engines customize their results based on past search requests, we start to view the world as a collection of groups, placing ourselves as members in or out of them. But what happens when we find that our self-selected group doesn’t think we belong? Like when your favourite comedy suddenly turns the jokes on what you hold most dear, and you realize that they see you not as a co-conspirator but as ridiculous. Or when a group of Moms organized a playdate in front of my friend, making a conspicuous effort to let her know she wasn’t invited. There is something psychically jarring about finding out that as far as part of your identity is concerned, everyone voted and you don’t belong.
People often write, often quite beautifully, (like Jen at Conversion Diary did recently about a horrible motorcycle fatality in her neighbourhood,) about how community can stitch us together, bind us up, and make us whole. But in my sadness in leaving my familiar haunts, I also mutter “and good riddance to that.” Community can lift us up, but sometimes it keeps us down. My last neighbourhood paired streets of McMansions straining at the setbacks of their city lots, with blocks of status seeking starter homes and condominiums. People worked so hard and long to take constant trips to Mexico, carry flashy purses, and buy their 8 year olds Macbook Pro’s for Christmas — they got their iPhone for Kindergarten Grad — that they were never around. Every evening at 5:55 PM, it was a line of luxury cars down that same school street as parents rushed to make it to After School Care pick-up before the fines kicked in. I saw my neighbour with kids twice in the year that she lived 5 doors down from me. She was such a stranger I walked right by her at the Public Pool, and didn’t clue in until I was 20′ past, that I had just snubbed her.
I hoping, praying, that things will be different in our new digs. We’ve already met more neighbours here, than I did the entire 7 years I lived in my old house. Perhaps this house will bring more of the same, but it’s too soon to tell. And until then, I am hoping that we have landed into a community that’s more chatting on the sidewalk, and less chasing after the latest win.