Life is far more Comfy when we're surrounded by those we care about, and for whom we'd do more than we'd do for ourselves. A better word for this Comfy buffer is Community. I really like thinking about Community as a buffer as it strengthens my resilience against external and internal shocks while providing me the chance to give back to strengthen that same group. Jan and I were very lucky to find an awesome community once. We're seeking to build it again. Creating a community around ourselves is one of our primary goals for the present, and the future, whatever that brings. I'd like to spend some time sharing with you our experience with community and some thoughts on how to build this buffer for yourself.
First, who makes up a community? The short answer is, anyone with whom you share a commonality. Whether it's faith, hobby, interests, heritage, etc. it does not matter. What matters is what's shared within the group. Finding people who look at the world in a similar way to you, maybe live near you, or are interested in the same thing as you is what's most important. Having these people around you physically or virtually may make a difference at the margins, but what is key is that there are people you can reach out to when you need to reach out.
Our greatest experience within a community was when we lived in Chicago. Although away from family, we found ourselves surrounded by people with whom we shared many interests, for whom we'd give of ourselves regularly, and who gave to us unconditionally. Initially we became involved with a fantastic couple's group at Temple Sholom, where we also began adult education classes, volunteered on the social action committee, and regularly went to Shabbat services. At the same time we were doing this, I was taking improvisational acting classes, so I connected with a vast array of fellow classmates, experienced actors, and many others from that realm. Soon we even found fellow Steelers fans(some of whom we met through Temple, and others we met through Improv) so we had a community built out of faith, interest and sports. We very quickly felt comfortable in this community, participating in many activities on a very regular basis with each group, and often combining groups to create enduring friendships even after our departure. As great of a city Chicago is in its own right, it was the community we created that we most miss about living there. It's the people we spent time with, the activities we remember fondly, the Temple and its clergy, not to mention very personally comfortable and meaningful services, that we most enjoy when we now visit. Our community in Chicago was strong, continuing to endure despite being away for over six years.
For us, we've found that our strongest community connections in order of strength have been:
Family, Temple, local friends, neighbors, distant friends and shared interest groups.
As we prepare for adoption of a child from China, we expect a new community of adoptive parents, as well as people interested in Chinese culture to come into our lives. Alongside that new community, we've been working to create a community in the DC area. To be honest though, it's much harder than it was in Chicago. We've found like minded parents with whom we've become friends. Some through kids groups, some through Joshua's school. We've also connected with fellow story tellers, but that's far less frequent now that we have a kid. I no longer spend any time with the acting community, even though the DC area has a flourishing acting scene. Therefore, despite being back in the area for six years, we're still struggling to have a community as robust as the one in Chicago we left after just two years there.
As we look toward possibly living in another place we'll miss the friends we do have in the DC area, but we don't feel as if we'll be losing a community, since we just don't feel like we have a strong one here.
Our lessons for building a community (which you can see from what I just wrote, we're still learning) are to seek out activities you enjoy. Whether its shared faith, family, or fun, if you find people that enjoy the same stuff, you can create a community with them. Give it effort, but also give it time. Some places you'll have more access and more time to devote to building those relationships. In some places you just won't.
As we look to the future, and possibly moving abroad, we're looking back at the things that were part of the community we most loved: activities, volunteering, shared experiences, and faith. Wherever we look in the world, we'd like to find those things. If we can find a subgroup of those, even if the price to live there is more than in places where we cannot, we'll choose community over almost any other criteria. Community is a high priority we're very willing to pay for to enjoy. You'll hear more from us as we work our way through the process of thinking through, testing, then moving away from DC. Chances are very good you'll hear about community a lot in that conversation.