I want to be left alone; truly, that was my first thought. She arrived in a car painted boldly with her worldview and website. Cyber-stalking confirmed she was a person of some renown for her antagonist religious views. Wishing our resident black bear would shake the SUV she was sleeping in–just enough to scare her–I grumpily hoped she would leave.
Small groups and intentional communities were my career focus for twenty-five years. Groups in which diversity thrived when respect and vulnerability were nurtured. While that work is not easy, thousands of people gathered in spiritual, environmental, business networking, mentoring, and non-profit applications know “different-and-united” is possible. Over time, I trained others to lead new groups, and last year I retired.
The criteria for my retirement: snow capped mountains and pine trees; no neighbors or visible structures; at least ½ mile from a county road–I actually measured this on overnight trips in the Midwest, deciding a one-half mile forest buffer would extinguish traffic noise. After years of hiking rocky plateaus, picking my way over back-woods debris, and a particularly strange ridge-top cabin with blue, poly 55-gallon drums containing a putrid, umber fluid, I finally found my mountain. I moved into solitude.
My mountain does have the occasional hunter or weekend camper, but I was blissfully alone . . . for five months. Then new folks built a pole building and a house down the mountain, and you guessed it, I can see it from my deck.
While still trying to process my thoughts about how sharing the mountain might affect my solitude, it occurred to me that the hermit and the extrovert, the machinist and the poet, the hunter and the gardener take nothing away from each other, and are all essential. My experience with small groups proved healthiest communities are rich with distinct personality types, skill sets and social dispositions. Blissful, I settled into a fantasy of naturally evolving community; my solitude just one part of a healthy group for which I needed to do nothing.
And then the new full-time resident. Crap. I just want to be left alone on my mountain. Maybe she won’t stay; life on the mountain can be tough. But a builder and well driller arrived, and the electric company to string buzzing metal across the beautiful pines. I rationalized that at least I only see her driveway . . unless she takes down trees . . .
It was then I realized my big-hearted inclusiveness was a sham; my strength of character hadn’t really been tested before. Rampantly my ideals failed as I gossiped with another neighbor, ruminating about the woman’s coming and going, obsessively watching for hours to see her car return just to complain she was there. I even condemned her for the way her car lights cut through the quiet, dark night.
My solitude was beyond reproach, this woman’s presence threatened my choice. In self-righteous defense, I mounted evidence to prove my needs superior, dismissing even her presence. And I had yet to actually meet her.
Last week there was a wildfire on a ridge ¾ mile west of the mountain. In the drought and heat a thousand acres of trees, homes, squirrels and wild currants can be eviscerated in hours. After calling dispatch, I set off to warn the family in the tarp-house, the fella in the ancient cabin, and the newcomer. Our possible peril, was now our point in common: communis. The helicopter flew over to identify the location as dusty grey smoke plumes filled the valley. Finally the wildfire crew got through the rough terrain, and the immediate risk was over.
The fire made it clear to me that this mountain community includes the animals, trees, soil, and water, and the people. To disregard anyone here, is to diminish this community. We have communis in drought, air choked with smoke particulate, and life amid snow-capped mountains and pines.
A month ago I would have told you I hold no prejudices and have no desire to change others. Shamefully, now I know that assessment was premature. Diversity is not simple, or easy; we are evangelicals, predators, conspiracy-theorists, insects, back-to-landers, seclusionists, harvesters, and activists. Reluctantly, I put away the binoculars and vowed to cease gossiping. I am gathering the courage to trudge down the mountain to meet the woman who has given me an opportunity to be a better person–even if she doesn’t know I once offered her up to the bears.
Communitas choro: Community is a dance.