The comfort of community

English: Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881, ...
English: Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881, Pierre-Auguste Renoir) housed in The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past weekend, shaken by the hurricane and our renewed sense of vulnerability — knowing the next power outage is inevitable — Jose and I instinctively went to be, in person and face to face, hug to reaffirming hug, with two of our long-time communities.

They are certainly distinctly American: softball and church.

I started playing co-ed softball about a decade ago, on a suburban park field in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, joining a group of men and women, ranging from their 20s to over 70. It was founded by Jon, who then worked for the commuter railroad, and who soon adopted two small children, a Chinese girl and a tow-headed boy named Dakota, who used to sit in their strollers behind the batting cage.

The years since then have been a parade of deepening friendships. When Ed’s Dad died, we drove into the city to attend his wake, much of it in Spanish. When CJ fell and shattered his leg, Marty, an orthopedic surgeon who also plays with us, was able to do a quick, if sobering on-field diagnosis. When I went onto the DL list in November 2009, unable to play for the next three years with a damaged left hip (fully replaced Feb. 6, 2012), I kept coming out for after-game lunches to stay in touch with this group I love so well.

At lunch last week, as one of only two women among 20+ men, I felt — as I always do — completely at home, teasing Sky, the handsome young man sitting to my left who’s become a personal trainer, with his Mom, a newly retired teacher, sitting to my right. We now feel like family, laughing and teasing and hugging. Ed, a tall, thin lawyer my age, has the same last name as Jose, so I call him “el otro Lopez.”

In an era of almost constant job and financial insecurity, some of us shifting careers in our 50s or beyond, having a group of people who love you, sweaty and dirty, injured or healthy, employed or not, is a wonderful thing.

Here’s part of an essay I wrote about them for The New York Times:

One unspoken rule of Softball Lite is that men don’t help the women — who usually make up roughly a third of about 20 players each time — or tell them what to do. We know what to do, and after a few games, our teammates know and trust our skills as well. If we goof up, well, it’s not fatal and we’re quite aware that we goofed. I usually play second base, and I didn’t appreciate one new male player who marked a spot in the dust and told me where to stand.

Off the field, too, we cherish our longstanding ties. When one player had a multiple organ transplant and spent many long months in the hospital, teammates went to visit. (He’s now back to running the bases full tilt.) We’ve attended friends’ parents’ wakes, celebrated their engagements and weddings, applauded their concerts.

And, after every game, a group heads to a cafe where — like some sweaty version of Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” — we gather green metal tables in the shade of a spreading tree, with stunning views of the Hudson River, and settle in for lunch.

We’ve watched Jon’s kids grow from toddlers to grade schoolers and cheered when Joe’s author made the best-seller list.

Jobs and homes and friendships have come and gone.

It’s said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. This dusty little one is mine.

The other place we went back to, after about a six month absence, is our church, St. Barnabas in Irvington, NY

I rarely blog about religion because it can be such a divisive issue; I’m Episcopalian (Anglican) but not super-religious, another reason I don’t blog about it. I began going there in 1998 after I became the unwitting victim of a con artist, a man I dated, a convicted felon whose predatory behavior terrified me.

His ability to so effectively dominate me psychologically proved to me how terribly lonely, isolated and lacking in self-confidence I had become, allowing him access to me, my home and my property. He stole a credit card of mine, forged my signature and committed other crimes — but the police and district attorney were derisive and dismissive, making me feel even more alone and scared.

I needed to repair my fully broken spirit. Two of the women I met my first week at church, Niki and Barbara, married women a bit older than I, are still friends. We’re still in touch, years after they have moved away, with our former minister and one of his assistants.

On our visit back this week, I was worried we might be snubbed for having been away for so long, but people were lovely. One older man, much more hunched over his cane than we had ever seen him, stopped me to say, with joy: “You’re walking so well!” They had seen me suffer 24/7 pain for 3 years with my damaged hip, on crutches for three months to relieve it, seen me through three prior surgeries.

I congratulated one woman on a 60-pound weight loss, saw another get baptized and heard about a friend’s move.

They knew me single, knew me when dating and living with Jose, and know and value us now as a married couple. We were asked to carry the elements — the Communion wine and wafers — down the aisle in their gleaming silver containers, cold to the touch. I feel deeply honored to be, however briefly, a part of the service, and in such an essential way.

Jose and I are not much like our fellow parishioners, many of whom are wealthy and live in large houses, the women staying home to raise multiple children, when we have none. But his parents are decades in their graves; his two sisters live far away and my father is a 10-hour drive north in Canada.

Like all of us, we need to know we are appreciated!

And, while I obviously value on-line connections, I most crave being in a room with people I know.

It is deeply comforting, especially in times of such fear and insecurity, to be known, loved and accepted by community.

Where  — in person — are you finding this sort of community in your life now?

18 thoughts on “The comfort of community

  1. I yearn for that sense of community. I recognize that it takes time to build those connections in a world that seems to have lost touch with the importance and value of face-to-face human interaction. I trust that I will recover that sense of community sooner rather than later, but meanwhile I am grateful for people like you who can so eloquently remind us all of the value of community toward making things just a tiny bit better.

    1. Hey, good to hear from you again!

      I have realized that time, and consistency, are really key to this. People need to know others more intimately, and both church and sports often peel back the layers of “hey!” surface cheer to allow others, over time, to see us happy and sad, rejoicing and sorrowing. I think there is not much community without intimacy.

      1. I think we’ve confused the difference between being truly intimate and connected with people, and the strange (self-obsessed?) urge to share every moment of our lives with the world. If that makes any sense.

      2. It is, I think, an interesting/odd dichotomy…people spill their guts to total strangers on the Internet (desperate to be heard and noticed?), post “haul videos” of what they have bought and ask “Hot or Not?” Yet only in intimacy do we really know one another — not just monologue into the ether. Intimacy is fraught! Conflict, misunderstanding, judgment…all also happen with intimacy. I can see the appeal of the former!

  2. Well, I live in the same town as my family, so I see them enough and talk to them more than enough to feel loved and appreciated. However, I also feel a sense of community at my dorm, at the Hillel for Jewish students, and here in the blogosphere. They are great places, and I like being apart of their communities.

  3. I think family is quite different. The challenge, for me, of community is being among others who can come from very different lives and circumstances yet you find powerful commonalities.

  4. Oof, this is a hard one for me. I belong to a faith community but though I find it personally nourishing, I often struggle because of the culture that comes along with it and the fact that (in my area at least) most faiths are generally highly conservative socially and politically, and I am NOT. Work is worse (a bunch of gun toting law enforcement men, yikes!). It’s lead to some rough moments for me lately, but a sense of humor gets one through a lot worse.

    I find I need lots of different small communities, and unfortunately most of mine are not in the immediate area. My family is on the Eastern Seaboard, as are my closest friends. Thank goodness for the upcoming holiday season!

    1. I hear you loud and clear on this…Much as I value our church, I also struggle **mightily** with the fact it is largely composed of 1%ers and we very rarely discuss social justice. We do, this week, hold an annual clothing sale that raises $45K or so, about 90% of which goes to local charities, and I’m proud of that.

      I have other communities — writers, bloggers, ex-pats, Canadians, creative folk — all of which help to sustain me as well.

      Living in New Hampshire was absolutely impossible for me (lasted 18 months, deeply unhappy) as I could never, anywhere, find people I could truly relate to, let alone connect with. I hope you move soon (!?) to London.

      1. That sounds somewhat similar to my situation, just not quite the same tax bracket (though the attitude of a much higher one firmly entrenched!). I used to think people can be happy anywhere, it was a question of mind over matter, but now that no longer rings true for me. Location is just as important as the people you find there. Mere months until London!

      2. I can’t wait to read your blog from London — as you will also be so much happier.

        I also thought everywhere can be workable, but I really did not enjoy living in Montreal or NH and have been, despite great difficulty making friends for a long time, much happier here in NY. A blog post feels inevitable here. 🙂

  5. It’s so funny – I’m an American living in England and what’s community to me? Softball and church. First thing I did was find a team (with difficulty) and, even though I’m not religious at all, I’m wishing I had a church to go to. So very American!

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