There was a time when my adventures always trumped my community. I traveled regularly, moved on a yearly basis, and put no thought into my relationships in the process--trusting fully that I could make friends anywhere I went. For others, not prioritizing community may look like consistently choosing the "more fun" activity, alone time, the "less likely to get hurt" option, or a career. I'm sure there are countless reasons that people don't prioritize community, but for me it was always adventure--the freedom to go and do what I wanted when I wanted. Then, something happened: I began to recognize my own selfishness, and everything started to change.
To be honest, these changes were originally forced. But soon enough, they became my norm and eventually, my desire. As with most change, I'm still dealing with the ramifications of the days when I didn't value community. Because of the patterns of my past, I gained friends--dear friends, all over the world. This made life complicated, and eventually resolved in either deeper commitment or loss. Some of those friendships stood the tests of great distance--through mutual commitment and mutual acceptance that the relationship looked different. As for the latter, this is a sad human reality that is a cost I'm still learning to pay for the sake of community. I had to accept that I could not truly maintain all the friendships in all the places and also have a strong community.
Through these transitions, there were some things I began to understand. The primary being that friends don't necessarily equal community. Community equals community. This was sad for me because like I said, I have friends spread far and wide. But, for the sake of community, there came a point when I decided to choose into my community and prioritize my here and now, my current city and neighborhood over so many others whom I loved. This idea may not be true for those who have stayed in the same region most of their lives, and there are parts of me that envy you. For my situation however, I had to accept that it wasn't fair to expect distant friends to play the role of my community.
This understanding came during the two years I lived in Philadelphia, a place close to home and therefore, close to many people and places I loved. Because of my eventual desire for community, I began to see that remaining committed to my history was damaging my community. It was damaging my present experiences. It seemed easy enough to stay committed to my past: all the places I'd lived, the friends I'd made and still have a local community, but it just wasn't true--it wasn't possible. I began to see that the depth of community I maintained more or less boiled down to my willingness to sacrifice other desires, especially my desire to stay connected to every facet of my past. In truth, I couldn't build deep relationships locally and with regularity while still going to my home town every week in the summer (a beach town) or while spending my leisure time in New York (or even other neighborhoods), or while camping every few months. Those desires were mutually exclusive.
The key to choosing into my community was being willing to do the hard thing--to mourn the losses that would eventually become my past. Taking the necessary time to look into my past, to recognize the joys and sorrows, the heartaches and ideals was crucial, albeit painstakingly difficult. It was crucial because without that process, I couldn't fully step into my present life or truly be devoted to my community.
The same is still true. In order to fully engage my new community in Oakland, I have to recognize my losses, mourn them, give thanks for them, and continue moving forward as a whole person.
This post goes out to the first coffee shop that provided a dearly cherished space for community. Now strutting SEVEN locations throughout NYC, the photo featured is from their early days, but the address is to their next nearest location, only a few doors down from their original spot:
21 East 27th Street | New York, NY
I'd love to hear some areas of your life you've given up for the sake of community in the comments section.