Loneliness and Community

Dec 12, 2009

A year and a half ago I moved from Northern California to Charlotte, leaving behind two sons, one daughter-in-law, a great circle of friends and acquaintances, and even the familiar faces in the background whom I didn’t know, but recognized in the grocery store or drugstore. After forty years spent on the Peninsula south of San Francisco, I never thought about the communities I belonged to there, but the first thing I noticed in Charlotte was that there was not one familiar face when I shopped at the grocery store. There is not a single day when I have regretted this move, but I have been lonely occasionally since coming to Charlotte. Fortunately, the friendliness of the people here has really helped assuage it.

The first community I joined was at the YWCA where I soon joined water aerobics classes in the mornings. Within about 5 weeks, the women missed me, asking what had happened last Tuesday that I wasn’t there. I have developed some good friendships in that class. Southern hospitality is a truism, although like every other area of our country today, there is little time or energy to take on another friend and incorporate them into one’s life. I’ve recently met a woman who is my out-to-dinner or a movie or an art gallery companion. She, too, is a newcomer who has found that her old friends—she lived in Charlotte for quite a long time before—are not calling her and reincorporating her into their circle.

My second community is a Baptist Church, a large one, so it took a while to get involved and really meet and connect with others. Now it’s a friendly place. I’ve met people at the Wednesday night dinners, on the Board of Education where I’m a member, in Sunday School classes, at Centering Prayer workshops, in the Bible Workbench study, at the retreats I’m now leading at the church and in other ways. I have met many people who share similar beliefs to mine.

My third community are my immediate neighbors. There are two couples with children under 3, an artist somewhat close to my age, and two younger women. They are all engaging and helpful and friendly. If I’m not home to drag my trash and recycling bins up to the house, someone has done it in my absence and I reciprocate.

I have recently realized that I am still lonely, even though I keep up with friends and my sons in California. As I tried to pin-point the loneliness I realized that launching myself as a retreat leader takes more energy and talent than I have. I am not much of a marketer although I think I understand some of what needs to be done. This work has been all on my shoulders, so the first thing I did was to create a two-member board to support and care about the work with me and to give me honest feedback about my plans and execution. I no longer feel alone.

The second step was to hire an assistant to help me with the work. So I emailed the woman in charge of our church’s economic downturn ministry to post a $12/hour, five to ten hour a week job; she emailed back that she would take that job. Now her resume puts her up in the hundreds of dollars an hour category, but in God’s own wisdom, she volunteered and I accepted. So my marketing plan is well underway, and again, I am delighted to be sharing some of the burden.

So now I have a fourth community for my work. Oh, Lord, that feels so good. In fact I am no longer feeling lonely; I have so much to do and good people to do it with.

My fifth community is my family here, in California and on the East Coast. Here is my daughter, her husband and four boys aged nine to three; a cousin and her family, one of my nephews for a while, and my daughter-in-law’s mother who is also a friend. They all sustain me.

My sixth community is a small spiritual direction circle up in Davidson, with whom I can share my deepest longings and hopes and fears, and get honest and very spiritual feedback.

A seventh community centers in my volunteer work at Crisis Assistance Ministry, an emergency help agency where I am getting to know the volunteers and supervisors and our clients.

An eighth community is my Bible Workbench group of about 15 women. We meet every week throughout the year. There I have met very interesting women and learned so much from each one’s sharing that has broadened my understanding of each Biblical passage we are dealing with. We have the most interesting discussions.

I had thought that just me and the Lord, and doing God’s work, was enough. Now I realized that He has sent me all these communities for mutual support and caring, that this is all a part of his plan. He certainly didn’t plan for us to be alone. He designed us to need communities, to be interactive, to love others and be loved back. Thank you, Lord. I am no longer lonely. While I took my different communities for granted in California, now I see community as so essential that I revel in it.

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