Today was a beautiful October day. I stepped outside to catch the last of the sun as soon as I got home from work. It’s that time of fall where the trees have dropped about half their leaves, so walking down a street lined with ash trees is like strolling through a golden tunnel.
Yet despite the beauty, my heart was filled with heaviness. It was Friday night, and I was alone. I was slung with the prospect of a wide open night with absolutely no plans—this suddenly lacked the allure it had in the middle of a busy work week. For a moment I felt overwhelmingly alone.
Solitude has been a common theme for me as of late—I recently moved into an apartment for the first time by myself. Since college I have been on a steady path of downsizing, ever since the highpoint of 11 roommates during a year of vounteering and community living after college. So I was very excited about a place all my own—I couldn’t wait to organize and decorate just how I liked. Yet I don’t think I fully thought through the intangible aspects of living alone. Now it seems a very long way from that house of 12.
That year working with the poor, I saw again and again the results of broken relationships. People isolated, on the street, with no one to turn to. I was reminded again and again that all of us are fragile, that nothing in life is a given. The bottom can fall out for myriad reasons. If we have someone to turn to, we’re probably going to get back on our feet sooner. But so many don’t. According to John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, Americans report having “significantly fewer close friends and confidants than a generation ago.” And it is estimated that by 2010, about 10 percent of Americans will live by themselves. Community is so hard for us Americans! We value independence so much.
At one time I think community was created by one’s neighbors, and one’s parish. This was certainly the case for my mother and her large Catholic family, growing up in a working class neighborhood of South Minneapolis. Yet in 60 years, that neighborhood has completely dissolved from what it once was—everyone has moved on. There are a number of reasons why that urban community is no longer, too many to expound upon here. But there’s no doubt it’s a difficult thing to create and maintain community. It takes sacrifice, and a lot of continual work. It requires putting down roots, and saying “enough.” It requires making time for people. It is not always fun—yet it can create a great deal of richness. And therein lies the discomfiting, nagging paradox.
Kate Lucas lives in Minneapolis, MN, where she writes grants and many other communications for an international NGO that supports communities in Guatemala. She served with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers several years ago and now scratches out poetry and knits in her free time.