Guests enjoy themselves in the dining room.
The city of San Luis Obispo from Monterey Heights
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. Aldo Leopold
“The greatest lack in contemporary society is community,” someone at the SLO Soiree last Sunday said, and it struck me as true.
The setting in which the statement was made completely belied it: the guests at that gathering form a deliciously civilized community. At its heart is a group of friends who’ve been coming to soirees facilitated by Dr. David Hafemeister, physics professor and expert in nuclear policy and foreign relations, for many, many years. Now held at the Steynberg Gallery on Sundays from 7 – 9, participants enjoy wine and cheese before sitting down to a presentation of some sort and a lively Q&A session. Last Sunday a couple of retired lawyers debated whether America is in decline. They were wise and erudite and the discussion was both profound and very much fun.
To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness. Bertrand Russell
Not so long ago, every neighborhood was a community. Small businesses served the neighborhood and kids went to the neighborhood school. A neighborhood was an ecology, a complex set of relationships, that took up the greatest part of our time, energy and attention.
Neighborhoods, small towns, villages, tribes, and families are all ecologies, for better or for worse, and more or less sufficient unto themselves. Cities are made of neighborhoods – fortunately, or they’d be cold places indeed – but all neighborhoods are not communities.
David Spangler says,
Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.
Today, though there are impressive exceptions like the cohousing movement, communities built on proximity are increasingly short supply all over the world. The oil industry, all those cars and roads to drive them on, is largely responsible.
In Monterey Heights, my neighborhood, community is on the increase. Neighbors are coming together the way they do when facing a disaster – or the potential of a disaster, as many of us view the new freshmen dorms being built on our doorstep. A clear indicator of community is how long it takes to walk the dog – everyone I meet wants to talk.
Together, we imagine seven four-to-five story buildings looming over our mostly one-story neighborhood. We agree on how hard it is to cross Grand Avenue already. “Can you believe the Environmental Impact Report didn’t take the intersection of Slack and Grand into consideration?!” We visualize roving gangs of 18-year-olds looking for parties on our already student-rental-ridden blocks. A series of meetings is being held, and neighbors, armed with a common cause, are getting to know one another.
Equality comes in realizing that we are all doing different jobs for a common purpose. That is the aim behind any community. The very name community means let’s come together to recognize the unity. Come … unity. – Swami Satchidananda
As climate change, continuing economic instability, shifting values and lack of a common belief system bring more chaos into our lives, finding commonality with others around us is more and more essential.
As Ganesh Baba says,
We must shed our fear of one another, not for some medieval ideal, but as the only practical course to continue as a species.
Let’s make survival of the human race our common goal and take responsibility – individually and together – for our part in preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of the planetary community by preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of our own small part of it, the neighborhood.
Creating harmony amidst diversity is a fundamental issue of the twenty-first century. While celebrating the unique characteristics of different peoples and cultures, we have to create solidarity on the level of our common humanity, our common life. Without such solidarity, there will be no future for the human race. Diversity should not beget conflict in the world, but richness. — Daisaku Ikeda
Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious. – Ruth Reichl
Not long ago, the words “Live to share” came to me on the tag of a teabag. I saved it on the window sill with a fortune cookie message from the week before. I generally appreciate random bits of wisdom – these two spoke to me so strongly that I wanted to save them.
If the fortune is true, I’m deeply grateful. What grace to be at a point in life where it’s enough to be kind, to live from the heart without fear, and to leave the world of comparison, competition and mastery behind until its tools are really useful.
I’ve been trying to live by kindness for a long time – who doesn’t love the Dalai Lama? – but the workaday world doesn’t always reward it, and when I was younger and more fiery, it wasn’t always so easy. But now, having received such a propitious cookie fortune, perhaps I can do it.
The tea tag appeals to me because it so precisely describes what I am doing with my life these days.
After my mother died and our children grew up, Tom and I were left with a ridiculously oversized empty nest. I’ve always felt that if we have such a big, beautiful space, we should share it, so we’ve filled it with friends and family, exchange students, SERVAS and warmshowers guests, and an array of tenants. I host women’s circles and meditation groups, we have advocacy groups and the French club here sometimes, and once a month we open our home for a community dinner.
We began having Monday night dinners about 25 years ago. When the kids were younger we did it every Monday: open community dinners. We’ve used the same rules the whole time: come promptly at 6, leave at 8, bring real food, and help set up and clean up.
The food is consistently excellent though we never plan it. In all those years, not planning only failed twice. Once we had one salad and many desserts. That wasn’t too bad – it was fun to have dessert for dinner. But the time we had all bread was not so much fun. The next dinner is the first Monday in April. Tell me if you’ll be coming so the right number of tables and chairs get set up.
For the past two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to earn a living by sharing the house with new friends from around the world through Airbnb. Some of our guests have already become old friends. What an exquisite joy it is to sit around on the deck after dinner enjoying a glass of wine or a cup of tea with old and new friends, discovering commonalities and sharing stories.
The exercise I get changing beds and cleaning, especially paired with a couple of dog walks a day, is perfect for me. The pleasure I find in hanging the sheets on the line and then making the beds, especially with my mother’s linens, is enormous. I love keeping the house fresh, clean and beautiful, and the extra cash flow is paying for many long-put-off maintenance projects. When I want the rooms for family or friends, I block the Airbnb calendar and everything is ready.
What more could I ask?
What you would grasp
only those seeds that fall