There is a neighborhood that I pass on the way to my favorite ice cream place. It's probably one of the cutest spots and I think I would like to live there one day. It's probably not true, but I feel like the houses have been passed down through families, like you have to inherit a house on that street. Old, amazing trees fill Mobile and on this street, almost every house has lights strung among their branches. A soft glow of lights, filling the street, down as far as you can see. A few weeks ago, while on the way to the ice cream place (can you tell where we hang?), I passed the street again, but this time it was blocked off. The curbs were free from cars and under the canopy of lights, tables filled the street. There were people everywhere! Block party, birthday party, wedding, whatever it was, it's what I dream about. Community.
Did you ever see Parenthood? The backyard of the parent's house is one of my favorites. I literally dream of that place. The long table, under the lights, perfect for family dinners. That was how that neighborhood looked that night. Midtown, the area I live in, is known for it's friendly pockets where the neighbors still know each others names and kids give your dogs treats as you walk them in the evenings. Neighborhood yard sales are prevalent and people support the little lemonade stands. The other day, I walked past a house that had the most perfect tree swing. It hung from this amazing branch that swept over the sidewalk and the swing was just right there. It was idyllic.
While I know that the box of midtown is small compared to the rest of the city, to me, it is one of the best places to live.. Neighbors will leave pulled up flowers on their porches for others to rescue and replant, free for others to walk up and take! It's still a place where people want to know your name and your story. That's the kind of community I've been wanting to be a part of, the community I've been craving. To know people by more than just which house they belong to. To know friends by more than just their name and that they are seemingly "fine" like all the other days.
I want to be sitting outside on my porch and have friends just randomly show up. I want the summer nights to be filled with long conversations, music quietly filling the air, with the whir of the porch fan serenading us as the sun finally makes its way down past the neighbor's fence line. Like the nights in college were we were piled up on couches until the early morning hours and we finally realized we had to go to our own homes. Something I wasn't told often enough in college? Making friends as an adult is hard. As an adult, when no longer surrounded by literally everyone your own age, you almost have to ask the question out loud, "Will you be my friend?" That is a hard, vulnerable question to ask, because the rejection from the other person can be so very real. But, community? We are made for this.
In Hannah Brencher's new book, "Come Matter Here", she shares story after story of her friends and how they helped her in her transition to Atlanta. There is a chapter called "Be the Invitation" and she describes community so well. Like, I repeatedly said to myself, "They know how to do this. They get it." Was it always perfect? No. Was it ever hard? Yes. But the people kept showing up, time after time. And the community just kept growing and like Hannah said, "we kept coming to the table, over and over again, and it was beautiful." True, real community takes intentionality. Which for someone who is a homebody, that is hard work. I admit there are so many days where I just want to leave work, come home, lay in my bed, and just let that be it for the night. But, I'll also admit, that the nights where my roommates and I pile up in the car to go get ice cream or when we all just stand around in our hallway talking, those are some of my favorites. Those are the times I'll always remember. Like the memory from before when friends came over and we all ended up on the kitchen floor or when we carved pumpkins on my college friend's porch. And those times that we never actually made it into the dorms, we stood outside on the steps for hours. How easy we were practicing hospitality and community and we didn't even realize it.
I guess it's true, that you don't realize what you have until it's gone.
I don't even know where to begin to create that kind of community again. All I know is that I can tell my friends I have an open-porch policy. Come, sit. I promise one day I'll have more than two chairs out there, but don't let that stop you. There are wide steps with tall backs to sit against, you can bring your favorite chair or we'll pull some out from inside. Just come. Let the conversations be deep and the hours pass us by. Let's just let community grow.
I wish I could quote Hannah's whole chapter on being the invitation. It stirs something in my soul every time I read it. It's caused an ache, that's actually always been there, to grow stronger. The ache for community. We were made for that. And while my front porch isn't among others in a sea of twinkle lights, it does have a full view of an old oak tree that is pretty magnificent. Twinkle lights or not, that doesn't have to stop me from finding community.
"It's easy to slip into a pattern where you don't really take care of your relationships. Investing in someone's life is not the same as investigating someone's life. One requires patience, capacity, and continuing to be there when the door looks so enticing. We cannot be people who accept a check-in text or a comment on a photo as enough to say we are truly living in community." -- Hannah Brencher, Come Matter Here, pg. 143
What does community look like in your life right now?
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