We had just moved to California after three years in graduate school in Connecticut, my husband (then, fiancé) and I. I left behind a house full of women I lived with. Lived with, laughed with, talked at all hours of the day with, cried with, studied with. After graduation, we scattered around the country to pursue various opportunities. And though coming to California was returning home for me, it now felt like a completely different terrain. What was once familiar such as my old friends were now gone. I was beginning anew, including building a whole new community.
I remember reading the first chapter of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, during this time of my life and feeling a pang of longing. He described how an Italian immigrant community in a small Pennsylvania town in the 1800’s defied normal health statistics in that its residents lived much longer and had an alarmingly low rate of heart disease compared with other communities in that time period. It wasn’t because of their diet or lifestyle, researchers gathered, as their diet was heavy in the traditional Italian fare of pasta, oils, breads and cheeses. It was, they slowly discovered, their tight-knit community where it wasn’t uncommon for three generations to live under one roof and for neighbors to know one another deeply and take care of one another.
I closed the book and started crying out of a deep loneliness.
It would be years before I truly felt like I was a part of a tight knit community again. I shared about the challenges of this in my essay, “Making Friends as Adults.” But now, I look around and feel so much love and support around me—so much so that I would go so far to say that our community saves us.
Almost every two weeks, my parents take our son for the weekend. During those weekends, my husband and I repeatedly comment to one another with awe, oh my god, this. is. so. nice. Most times, I just stay in my pajamas, barely leave the house, and watch movies I’ve put off for months. I feel like a brand new person by the end of the weekend.
Almost every week, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law come over to play with our son and have dinner with us. We catch up, joke around, and just enjoy one another’s presence.
While my brother lives in the LA area, I remember when he would also come over frequently back when we lived near him. There were a couple of times even, when he would come over as my husband and I were getting over an argument and me be so grateful for his presence because he would lighten the mood and consequently, warm up my heart towards my husband again.
I have some friends who are now getting to ready to move—the third time in three years—and they are ever so grateful for their friends who willingly agree to help them yet. again.
My other friend is going through a divorce and we talk almost every day. I asked her, “how are you getting through this rough time?” She responded, “I make sure to have a friend or family member over every single day. I can’t be alone.” This was coming from an introvert.
If I could encapsulate the identity of God into one word, of all the words in the English language I know of, it would be the word, “with.” God is the one who is always with us and never leaves us. Even in the darkest times, God is right beside us, guiding us, comforting us. This is why the Bible continually refers to love and community as the strongest concrete presence of God in our lives. Our community saves us. And we, in turn, reflect the presence of God to one another when we journey with people through their lives. We don’t even have to solve one another’s problems. Salvation comes just by being there for one another.
Study after study on happiness and wellbeing differ on the primary sources of those states but one source is indisputable across the board—our community. We are happiest when we are in community. This can take the form of family, neighbors, college friends, coworkers, a faith community, volunteer group, or any other regular gathering of people where one feels known and supported. It’s also common in this day and age for people to have several micro-communities instead of one primary community such as the residents of that old Pennsylvanian town. I know I do with my family, clergy colleagues, church and friends.
If you feel like you haven’t found your community yet, that’s okay. Acknowledge the desire for it and slowly begin to take initiative on joining or creating one. It may sometimes feel slow and discouraging with some friend break-ups along the way but as my favorite saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. Or another one of my favorites, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
In a couple weeks, I’ll be releasing the third volume of the Simple Workbook series on cultivating healthy relationships and mending broken ones. This workbook focuses solely on this essential part of our lives and the source of our happiness—our community. Be looking out for that post in the weeks to come.