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.

1 comment:

Kristin said...

Hey, Lizzy Q!

I loved reading this blog entry. I can totally relate to your struggles to find connections with people in a new community! I, too, am having difficulty here with this, and I've already been here over 2 years! I think part of what I've been contending with is culture shock, as well. I'm not sure if that's true for you. Anyway, hang in there! I think your idea of getting involved in volunteering efforts is spot on...and I've also met like-minded moms through LLL (La Leche League), the farmers' market, our Music Together classes (a national program, similar to Kindermusik), and library storytime.

We can't wait to spend Sunday with you guys! See you soon...