Why I wish I lived in a commune.

 In honor of this little vacation I’m on with some of my favorites, this post from January 6, 2011 seems appropriate.


I just rode home in the back seat of a Volkswagen with two seventeen year old girls manning the front seats, singing at the top of their lungs to Taylor Swift.  There are few things I love more in the world that singing to cheesy pop songs in the car with teenage girls.  Ahhhhh. Being home in Philadelphia is good.

I’m only here for a couple more days and will finally be back to real life and an actual schedule (which I’m craving!) and a home that I have the pleasure of caring for. (As much as it’s wonderful to be in all my parents’ homes, it will be nice to have my own kitchen.) But there are sweet, sweet things about being in the Philly-world, among so many dear people who love us and whom we always want to be in our lives. Today I had two of my dearest friends over for lunch. They each have two kids. When we last shared our lives together (a year and a half ago), they were moms of one kid. And these sweet babies don’t know me from any other stranger in their lives. That’s one of the most difficult things about moving: what might be a short time away (3 years?) is eternity for a little person. For August, San Francisco is the only home he’s ever known, no matter how many people loved him through his first year of life here on the East coast.

I keep thinking about that. What does it mean to live in community? There’s no way that I will ever be able to live my life among all the people I love. If I were in charge, I’d bring all my lovelies to some beautiful farm and build all our houses in a big a circle where we’d shoo our kids into their shared acre of play yard, and where I’d garden (I don’t even know how to garden) with all my besties in the warm sunshine everyday. It’s always our joke when we’re with our friends here that one day we’ll move back and start our commune, where all our friends will each use their specific skill sets. (My husband really thinks he could learn wood carving and make amazingly awesome wooden sunglasses.) We’d grow our own food and live together and watch each others’ kids and have an idealic community of support and joy and spiritual care. We laugh about it, but the truth is that we all really long for it.

One of the strange things about coming back to the suburbs from our life in the city is getting used to how long it takes to drive everywhere. People live so far away. When I lived here, I drove thirty minutes to friends’ houses on a regular basis. It was just how life was. Now I have no tolerance for my time in the car. And I can’t help but stare out my window at each of these houses separated from one another by yards and wonder if our society has it all wrong, if we were meant for something much richer than enclosing our families into our boxes of  3 bedroom/2 baths while longing for authentic relationships outside of those enclosures. I’m not just talking about the suburbs. The city may be closer together in space, but we’re just as individualized as the rest of our culture.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. But our houses seem lonely to me and I know that the longing I have for a friend-commune is coming from an authentic place. I long for my kids to be raised among people who love them and who aren’t just their parents. I long for them to have simple lives of playing outside and exploring and building friendships. And I wish we owned goats from which we could make amazing cheese(!). I know that I’m drawn to the monastic life because in some way, they are living the kind of simplicity I’ve always longed to live: communal living, working with their hands, praying and serving together, quietness, ritual. These are all things our culture is missing.

So what does it mean for us to pursue those ideals and still live in our homes, raising kids and going to Trader Joes? I don’t know. But I’d love your thoughts…



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6 responses to “Why I wish I lived in a commune.

  1. Oh, you have hit on something here that I struggle with so mightily. My heart is drawn to a communal life, but part of me still resists – still wants space. But it’s only the thinking and anticipating part of me that gets a little freaked-out at the thought of losing space; the times we’ve been deeply entrenched in it, I’ve been so fulfilled.

    We live in a tiny town. It takes less than seven minutes for me to drive to the home of a friend who lives the furthest away. I hear what you are saying – it’s not just the suburbs. It’s our culture. It’s our mindset.

    But I definitely think the more we intentionally make space for – actually, demand space for – community and closeness and living life together, the easier it gets. It’s just taking those first steps into that is so hard.

  2. I also think that it’s letting people in that’s hard, and counter-cultural. Not letting people into our spaces, our homes — that’s easy. But letting other’s into our hearts, our hurts, our struggles, our triumphs, especially in the middle of growing our families. I find that here, on the Main Line at least, it can be so much easier to stick to myself, and I am challenged on a daily basis with humbling myself within my community.

  3. M

    I’m with you. I read Thomas Merton (7 Story Mountain and other works) as a High School Student and thought I would be a monk. Wasn’t my calling as I became a husband, father of 2 boys, and a Presbyterian pastor in the Bay Area. But I have always thought living in a Christian community within our contexts, rather than separating ourselves, would be a more favorable, but not Utopian, way of life.
    It’s sad that we are all killing ourselves trying to pay rent/mortgage, raise children, feed ourselves, all by ourselves when if homes in a circle or open shared backyard even would allow for some combined efforts.
    There are more and more new monastic communities springing up, http://www.communityofcommunities.info/ has some.
    I think of CS Lewis’ Great Divorce and the way we are inclined to isolate and insulate ourselves so this kind of living can only happen with total humility, honesty and grace, grace, grace.
    Enjoyed the post and helped hold onto some hope…

  4. my heart longs for this too, but these days, i’d settle for much less…

    i grew up in the philly suburbs (newtown), love city living (pittsburgh) and somehow find myself among chickens at summer camp. we do have that community in a sense–dozens of staff who love my babes fiercely, but it’s only three months a year.

    when i lived in pittsburgh, oh how i abhorred the car! never wanted to cross the river or leave the east end. now, it’s a long drive to buy nearly anything. so mostly i don’t:) we are entertaining the idea of getting goats in the fall if ya wanna start a PA commune…;)

    • I really should have replied to this 2 weeks ago, Suzannah. But here I am to say: Yes! to goats and a PA commune! And…Yes! to Newtown. (We lived in Devon and Ardmore…) So glad to have your voice around here…

  5. Pingback: Are we raising our children alone? | mama:monk

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