In the lead up to the presidential election, I happened to read The Long Loneliness, Catholic Worker activist Dorothy Day’s memoir of her life in the first half of the 20th century. Day helped found the Catholic Workers movement, which opened and ran “hospitality houses” all across the country, where anyone could come to rest, live, commune, and be fed. They became centers of activism as well as a radical kind of community, where the lines between those being served and those serving were blurred.
Community was one of the primary themes through the book, presented as the solution to “the long loneliness” she describes. In fact, she closes the book on this point:
We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that loves come with community.
It’d be hard to argue with that conclusion! And yet, in the main body of the book, I found myself confused at times, because her actual descriptions of real, specific community life were so … awkward. Flawed. Full of failures. Human. They certainly didn’t stand out as stellar examples of what I once thought of as ideal community.
When I was in my early 20s, community meant something golden and sweet. Community represented warm fuzzy feelings that we might get from helping each other. Community meant friendship and shared meals.
How could I reconcile that image with what Day describes, where people failed to meet each other’s needs or grew weary of shared projects or just got burned out on community life in general? Of course, my own first-hand experiences with community have probably been closer to Day’s experience. There has always been awkwardness and challenge in figuring out how to live together and share resources when every person has a different perspective and unique needs (and sometimes just decides not to engage as a community anymore for various reasons). Anyone who has lived in an “intentional” community of any kind will likely have stories about miscommunications, conflicts, and strained relationships. It happens.
This weekend, we were talking with friends about these things, and I wondered aloud where someone might have gotten community “right.” Where have people figured out how to live together in ways that feel graceful and fulfilling and consistent?
I hadn’t quite finished Day’s book at the time, and the next day I realized that I was probably thinking about it all wrong. I had — for years — been thinking of community as a refuge of some kind. A place where one can retreat to for all those warm fuzzies and support in life. And, community can be that place (and friendship certainly can be too, although I’ve realized that friendship can sometimes be easier without shared resources to discuss and sort out!).
But, maybe Day’s point about community is something entirely different. Maybe we live together because of the inherent challenges that arise. Perhaps the goal isn’t for our relationships with others to be simpler but instead to be a bit more complicated as we sort through how to serve the needs of many in shared ways. Perhaps the point is to have daily opportunities to practice those ancient sacred human arts of forgiveness and intentional loving kindness.
I mean, really, liking and accepting another human being can feel very easy in certain contexts — in the flush of new love (whether that be with a romantic partner or friend), for example. But it’s not easy for long. The more our individual lives bump up against those of others, the more moments will arise that require us to breathe deep and intentionally see another person’s humanity. To remember to see their beautiful value even when we might be annoyed or legitimately frustrated with their actions (or them with ours!).
The longer I live, the more certain I feel that learning how to love is the work of living in this world. And, it’s not easy work at all. Certainly, our work is aided and eased by all the interactions that do give us warm fuzzies — that’s why shared meals are often the heart of any community, whether it be in a family or in a wider concept of community. We need to connect, on some level, in order to love.
But, I believe that we are called to love regardless. In the communities that Day describes in her books, there were many fun shared experiences (especially many long philosophical discussions held late into the night!). But she also describes situations that were really just about serving each other and loving past the discomfort of being in the presence of another human. Loving because love matters, not because it provides warm fuzzies or is comfortable or natural feeling.
So, thanks to Dorothy Day, I now have a new way of understanding community — as a place of continual challenge that prompts us to grow every day in our walk toward love and all that goes along with that choice (compassion, forgiveness, acceptance). Community has value because of how it builds us up through work and how it offers us opportunities to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Through the inner work, we connect with the rest of the world.
I have to be honest that in my early 20s, this version of community would not have held the same appeal as my warm fuzzy version. But we grow into our own understandings as we are ready for them, and my new vision of community allows me to see community working everywhere on all of us. Whether our relationships experience conflict is not the test of the community — what matters is what happens inside us, how we let our experience of community grow us into more loving individuals in the world. By this standard, communities that are hard at times can be seen as truly beautiful and life giving. Family life. Marriages. Shared households. Churches. Farms. Schools. Workplaces. All of these are communities filled with opportunities for growth — opportunities for us to bump up against others and choose to love.
On a personal level, this week has offered me such opportunities on multiple levels — at the quarry hearing last week, where the room filled with people with varying perspectives on the question at hand, including the applicants. I found myself looking around at everyone and feeling — surprisingly! — a lot of warm fuzzies! I felt so much love for everyone who had gathered and for everyone’s humanity. Sometimes, people just shine. I’ve heard mystics say this, and every now and then I get glimpses of that. Sometimes at surprising moments. But again, community gives me these opportunities to see others in the light of love, even when our interests might be at cross purposes.
Which brings me to yesterday. United States’ presidential elections have a particular knack of leaving half of the voting population feeling elated/powerful and the other half sorely defeated/scared/frustrated. Going into this election, I was so focused on my own feelings of want and hope that it was only when I found myself in that latter camp that I realized those feelings were inevitable for someone during each election cycle. Oh, I had a bitter night, weeping tears of disappointment. If I hadn’t, someone else surely would have instead.
What do we do with that reality? That’s what I wondered today as I blearily worked through my day. The mama part of me wants everyone to be happy, but clearly in a community as vast and diverse as our country, we will always have needs and wants that seem to be at cross-purposes. So, how do we live? What is the point?
I take comfort in my new way of seeing community, of realizing that maybe the point isn’t to come to a total agreement or avoid conflict forever. But, how we each respond to these conflicts can make our community succeed, even without solving the conflicts. Conflicts are opportunities to grow in love — real, nitty gritty hard love that doesn’t necessarily give us warm fuzzies. Love that moves us past our own perspective of what is wanted or needed and helps us just to see that other people shine in this world, even when we don’t agree with each other. Love that doesn’t wait for us to feel it or until we understand others or for us to perceive that the others “deserve” our love (goodness knows, we don’t “deserve” everyone else’s love either! We could all be waiting a long time for love in that equation). Love within big, real conflicts is hard. Life gives us opportunities to practice that incredibly challenging action.
Dorothy Day’s book also helped remind me that solutions can be small. That changing the world can happen on the micro scale. That I can make a difference, here and now. I don’t have to wait for the “right” person to be in the White House to serve my fellow humans. To care and love. Dorothy Day also demonstrated that serving others is different than trying to fix everything for them. Her vision is perhaps most radical for being so pedestrian. So down-to-earth. So grounded in the reality of who we are as people.
And, yes, I am oversimplifying the complexities of what it means to live in community. But, I think that these ideas are the base, and they help us understand community in new ways that open up expanded definitions of success. Including this moment now.
That’s what’s on my mind tonight at the end of this surprisingly beautiful November day (which made for delightful harvest work for Casey!). In addition to running this farm and parenting the kids, we’re also out here in the country figuring out how to live in this world. We’ll be working on that until the very end, I suppose, and weeks like this just accelerate the process. I wish you all peace this week as you bump up against others in community too.
And, of course, enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
P.S. Next week is the final CSA pick-up of the year!!!!!!! Our winter ‘to do’ list is growing and growing, and we are excited to have more time to work on it soon. However, we will also miss you and look forward to another delicious CSA season in 2017. Have you signed up yet? You can do so now on our website or in person at pick-up tomorrow. Please let me know if you have any questions.
P.P.S. We’ll post the Thanksgiving Holiday Harvest list in next week’s newsletter! We ask that you place your order by the end of Sunday, November 20, for pick-up on Tuesday, November 22.
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Meet this week’s vegetables:
- Marina di Chioggia winter squash — Even the small squash of this type are usually biggy big big. How does one properly handle a big squash like this? Our favorite way is to pre-cook it and use it over several days. On a quiet weekend morning, we wash and then pop a whole squash into the oven on a pan (we take the stem off first). We bake it at 350° until it is cooked all the way through and a knife inserts without any resistance. Then we take it out and let it cool off and put it into our fridge! Some of the ways we use the cooked squash: remove the seeds and skin and mash the flesh to make pumpkin muffins or other quick breads; reheat and brown slices (minus the seeds) in the oven or in a pan (good with lots of butter); puree into soups.
- Salad mix
- Fennel bulbs
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet peppers
And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:
- Ground beef — The last beef from our farm for the foreseeable future! $10/lb
- Lamb — Also the last lamb from our farm for the foreseeable future! Chops are $14/lb; roasts/shanks are $12/lb; ground lamb is $10/lb; organs and bones are $6/lb.