Putting Down Roots

finding community
November 3, 2011, 10:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This afternoon, with a baby snuggled against my spine in a worn teal baby backpack, I found myself on a walk through one of Tallahassee’s fancier neighborhoods with both of my little girls and their grandmother. Thanks to years of working in the admissions office at college and welcoming families at camp and, let’s face it, simply being my mother’s daughter (the same mother who knows all of the cashiers at Piggly Wiggly, who brings plates of cookies to construction workers to have an excuse to say hi, who regularly wraps a couple of beers in a plastic grocery bag to give to the 70 year old woman who works the Friday afternoon shift at the thrift store), I don’t have to work at all to feel familiar around people who are almost strangers.

And so, while I was walking on the wide sidewalks in the really perfect fall air (early November in Tallahassee is still bright and warm; I was wearing a sundress and sandals), trying not to think about the strangerness of getting paid to take a walk with two babies and their grandmother. She pointed out a couple of the houses where she knows people but admitted that, though she’s lived in Southwood for two years, she still doesn’t really know very many people. It’s a neighborhood that’s meant to be intentionally designed to foster community, but there’s only so much you can do when people move from car to garage to the spaces behind the closed blinds in their windows.

I told her about my own frustration with the lack of connections I’ve got in my immediate neighborhood, told her about my front porch last year and my familiarity with everyone who walked by, told her about how I thrived at Warren Wilson where I knew almost everyone and was connected to what was going on. She told me about the “active senior living community” she moved out of, where everyone did activities at the clubhouse and talked to each other and interacted all the time.

“Do you miss it?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s what I live for.” We both nodded.

And there I was, walking down a sidewalk, a two year old strung between our hands, and we knew just exactly what the other one meant, knew just exactly the frustration of wanting to be able to reach out to other folks but not knowing quite how to do it.

Being back in Tallahassee, his has been my main question: how do we make connections in a place that doesn’t foster it for us? How do we reach people when isolation and separation is so ingrained in our culture? How do we build community?

And the answers have come slowly, but they have come: in the idle chatter before baby music class; with the hand on my shoulder after a poetry reading; knocking on the door looking for an egg or a cup of sugar; biking down a shady trail with people I just met. Yes. The answers are coming.


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