12 June 2012

Building Community - I want it now!

When I was younger (read: two months ago), I held tightly to the belief that any sort of personal transformation is best served instantly.  For example, I once asked God to, essentially, make me awesome, over a period of nine days during Baha'i Pilgrimage.  I wanted to go to the Holy Land, have this amazing transformative experience, and come back perfect.  My lesson was lovingly shared with me in a dream (I had actually fallen asleep in one of the holiest places for Baha'is on earth, the Shrine of Baha'u'llah - argh!), where, through the medium of a pancake dream, I understood that practice is required for growth.  It's a silly dream, and I can tell you about it sometime, if you ask.

That was almost nine years ago, and is only now sinking in, which is sort of a testament to the truth of the lesson in the first place, no?

Not that there isn't any room for wonderful and complete transformation.  There are oodles of stories in world history of individuals who, once they hear of a new lesson or message, become immediately reborn, so to speak, as new and wonderful servants of humanity.  That is the power of the human spirit, and it is infinite.  Way to go for them.

But, for many of us, the reality is that we will go through life, learning and growing little by little, day by day, and, eventually work things out to a point where they are no longer an issue.  And then, we get a new challenge.

Looking at nature, there is very little to support instantaneosity as the standard way of being.  Growth, in its essence, is a series of very small changes - look at the stages of development from caterpillar to butterfly.  It is not an overnight process - just ask any schoolchild who has done this as a project - and takes many days, even weeks (which, if you think about it, is a REALLY long time for something that lives for only about a month).  From caterpillar to pupa/chrysalis to emergence to adulthood, each step is gradual, and each step is essential.  If you try to "help" a butterfly out of its cocoon, you will inhibit that butterfly's ability to function - it could even die.  The necessary steps required for healthy development involve laboring to free itself - it is simply the nature of the process.

My most recent lesson of this has been in building community.  Before our recent move, we had lived in the Chicago area for over five years.  It didn't seem like a lot at the time, but it was the most that Nathan and I had lived anywhere together for one time, and it was the entirety of our two daughters' experience.  We had, over the years, built up a little network of mamas and friends, all of whom we loved dearly, and all of whom we were reluctant to leave.  Our move wasn't over an ocean, but it was over the cornfields and monocultures on Indiana, and for city kids, that's a big leap.  When Nathan and I were planning our move, we estimated it would take about two weeks to "settle in" to our new place - get our boxes unpacked, things in order, and be prepared to sally forth into the new community.


The actual experience went more like this:  I get ridiculously sick en route to the new place, and am essentially out-of-commission for the two whole weeks we had planned to "set-up."  Nate starts school, and so I'm doing all of the work of unpacking, which now is prolonged due to working with the girls.  I miss my friends, I don't know where the grocery store is, and I don't have any friends.  Plus, it's hot.  I recede into a bit of a personal depression, and spend the autumn and winter trying to figure out exactly the way things work in our new environment.  I make one good friend, who is a lifesaver, but I don't want to be too clingy, and so I try to figure out where else to meet people who I might like.

*Sidenote here - moms need support, and once they find a good crew, they usually aren't looking for more people.  It seemed like all the mamas I met here in Bloomington already had "people."

**Another sidenote - finding a family of mom and kids that meet several criteria (a. you like the parents, b. you like the kids, and c. they like you back) is as complicated as dating.  Often only one of the criterion is met, and so there is usually some disconnect and awkwardness in the beginning.  There are a few possible end results, including complete neglect of the relationship, but the general trend is to find a family with two out of the three going for them, and then work on the last one concertedly.  A real boon is to find all three!

With spring came renewed energy, and as I involved myself and the girls ever more into the greater community, I found those hidden gems of friendships.  I struck up conversations with people I saw repeatedly, and, as the season wore on, met and really talked with more of my neighbors.  I learned that our town is seasonal - once the students leave university at the end of April, the real local people come out of hiding.  I got involved in local interest groups (for me, that meant organic gardening and urban farming workshops), and I started volunteering at the community orchard and local food pantry.  I enrolled the girls in classes at the local YMCA, and, from there have made a few more mama/kid connections.

I now know that it was unrealistic - at least for me - to expect to jump feet first into my new environment and successfully stay afloat.  I was holding a bit of a Veruca Salt attitude - I wanted it all, and I wanted it now (If you aren't familiar with Roald Dahl's character, she is a pretty piece of work, and you can find her, and other rather pithy characters in an excellent moral tale for parents, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.).  I was a product of a culture obsessed with instant gratification, and I saw no reason why I should expect to not have everything I desired right away.  Now, however, after life served me up a good old-fashioned pile-driver, I know better.  Work is required for growth - it is not a good or bad thing, it is just the nature of things.

If I were a butterfly, I think that where I am now is at the last stage of emergence - adulthood (and subsequent freedom) - are just around the corner.  My winter cocoon helped me to heal some of the injuries I sustained in moving to a new environment, and I was able to make little changes that helped me to better interact with my new place of residence.  There has been a lot of work involved, both personal as well as social - it's hard to put yourself out there.  I am currently allowing my wings to expand, and, from here, I suppose the possibilities are infinite.

I just hope I live longer than a month.

11 June 2012

The Big Deal

I'm avoiding any sort of work today - there are loads of children's class materials piled in my front room, reminders of last week's Indiana Baha'i Summer School, and camping gear stacked in the dining room.  I am loth to put any of them away, partly because I lack any energy and partly because I want to hold on to the sweet feelings that echo from the week.  I shared most of my time with three wonderful women - mamas and educators - working with a group of 6-8 year-old girls.  We learned about the Love of God and about courtesy and prayerfulness and unity and work.  It was lovely to see the little transformations that came about from our time together, and the sweet friendships that blossomed between tender hearts.

BUT, I digress.  The real reason for my avoidance of work is this:  I'm immersing myself in maps.  Maps of National Parks and Scenic Byways.  Maps of waterways and hiking trails.

Because, my dears, I'm planning a vacation.

Not just any vacation, mind you.  We are in no position to fly anywhere, and there will be no palm trees involved.  No, thank you.  We are driving from Indiana to Washington, down the Oregon coast, and back through Colorado.  Nate will visit theatres in Minneapolis, Seattle, and San Francisco, and I will make sure we get to see some real national treasures - the sacred Badlands in the Dakotas, the International Peace Park in Montana, the grandeur of Yosemite, and the beauty of the Rockies.

Man, oh, man.  Am I excited!!

This trip came about through a bit of hemming and hawing in our family.  Nathan's summer break is three and a half months long, but he needs to write two full plays before he goes back to school in August.  And, with all of the distractions of family life, we had to come up with a sustainable plan for our family, so that I could have personal time, Nathan could have writing time, and we could all have family time.  The first deadline for Nathan is at the end of July, when he will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to have his first play workshopped at the Kennedy Center.  There would then be four weeks before school starts again.  How could we work it all in?

Our agreement was this - Nathan would work every day for the next six weeks (while the girls and I traveled to various places: our Baha'i community campout at Turkey Run State Park, Indiana Baha'i Summer School, a trip to visit my family in Ohio, and planning a Virtues Camp for our friends here in Bloomington.).  In exchange, we would get three whole weeks of undivided "Daddy time."  And, feeling especially expansive, we decided to take a road trip.  So, here I am.  Planning.  Six weeks in advance.

Can you tell I can hardly wait?