Guest Blog by Joie Grandbois
At the age of 39 I made the decision to return to school to pursue my bachelor’s degree. At that time, I had a vibrant circle of friends with a very active social life. My weekends were spent dancing, brunching with friends, and making music with fellow artists. I was very active in my spiritual community, hosting monthly gatherings, and assisting with organizing our annual Pagan pride gathering. I was, to put it simply, very connected.
With school my life became even busier. I continued to work full time as I carried a full course load. My nights and weekends were spent doing schoolwork. I started turning down invitations to parties, brunches, and dinner gatherings.
As time passed the invitations to such things became fewer and as I closed in on the end of my first year I found myself in a place I didn’t expect to be – one of disconnection and isolation.
I count myself as lucky, because it happened so quickly, I recognized where the feelings came from. Communities are very much like living things, and like any living thing, they need time, care, and attention to thrive. I had very little to spend on maintaining my community connections and consequently those connections diminished.
As children we have ready-made communities around us. We have the other children we go to school with every day and who live in our neighborhoods. With this structure, we really don’t have much to do other than just show up – “You like Barbies? I like Barbies too, let’s be friends forever.”
In adulthood things begin to change. We pursue things that are more in line with our personal interests. We may leave our hometown to go to college or take a job in a place further away. If we marry or become parents, our lives may become even more insular, focused on our spouse and children.
Friendships and old family connections fall to the wayside until we find that we are dealing with feelings of loneliness that we can’t explain. We want to know what happened. Didn’t we used to have friends?
According to a recent Huffington Post article, one in five adults report suffering from loneliness on a regular basis. Our culture is a transient one. Most of us don’t live in the towns we grew up in. We move to where the more lucrative or interesting job is. We don’t have a connection to any one place.
The community skills that most of us have are meant to operate within an existing community structure, not one that we create ourselves.
It has taken the nearly two years since I graduated to rebuild my community connections. I’ve learned that community is not something that just happens, it must be pursued with intention.
It must be nurtured and cared for. Exploring how people connect and creating spaces for people to do that has become a major focus of my creative pursuits and my community activism. I recently facilitated 31 Days of Community to help people explore the current status of their community, the community they’d like to have, and how to go about creating it.
It can be as simple as scheduling a time each week to make a phone call to a distant friend, creating a Facebook group for old college friends, or organizing a potluck gathering to catch up face to face. It can mean organizing a book club, a monthly discussion salon, or creating networking events for people with similar interests. We must learn to build communities that bridge the physical distances the modern world so often puts between us.
Once we recognize that community is something that we are missing, we can make the changes needed to create it in our lives. Yes, it requires effort and learning new skills, but the connections we make will be stronger ones.
We will connect with one another on a deeper level than just living next door. When these skills become a habit, we can pass them on to those who come after, ensuring that community ceases to be something we must rebuild, and becomes something we cultivate throughout our lives.