Elsewhere I’ve spouted off about home and what I think it is and should be. I believe the home is the most basic building block of community and that we need community. We need far more community than most of us actually experience in our day to day lives.
I’ve dreamed of living in an intentional community since I first heard of them as a child. I wished my oh-so-conservative parents were flower children and would move us to a commune. I devoured Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love and Friday and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Robert Rimmer’s The Harrad Experiment and kept wishing, gathering a mental wish list of how I’d like to live.
I still haven’t lived in a commune, and doubt I ever will—but I still hope to find or be part of creating an intentional community.
You might not have run across the phrase intentional community (IC) before, and be wondering why I’d differentiate between an IC and a commune, so I suppose I should explain. Members of an IC have chosen to live in close proximity to each other in order to build a true sense of community, to explore whatever level of interdependence that community has chosen, to share resources, and to build relationships. Some ICs may involve sharing a dwelling and some involve private homes clustered together with shared common spaces. They may involve two or three nuclear families coming together to help each other, three or more adults and their offspring living as one family, or 20 or more families buying into a condominium development—there’s a lot of variety. Some ICs may be built around a common religious faith, others around a common interest (artist’s colonies and so on), others around political philosophies, and others simply due to relationships among the individuals involved.
- I have a friend who rented an apartment in a commercially-developed IC here in Atlanta where there are about 50 homes. The community shares a common hall for parties, entertaining, meetings, and so on. They have gardening space, a pond, a playground, and a laundry area. They park a little away from their homes and walk in, so they actually interact with their neighbors who might be strolling the walkways or sitting on their front porches sipping tea (really, I’ve seen it happen—I promise). Their kids run around and play together in a safe environment.
- I know two married couples, each with one young child, who chose to “marry” each other. They all live together in one suburban home and are raising their children as siblings. Two of them work together at home in their family business full-time, and their intention is to grow that business until none of them are working for outside employers. They’re homeschooling the children and have a higher standard of living and more security and stability than they would realistically have as two separate nuclear families. Both children have four parents who are present, highly involved, and loving.
- Elsewhere in Atlanta, there’s a neighborhood that’s slowly becoming more and more pagan, as members of a spiritual group deliberately buy or rent each house that comes available so that they may live near each other. They cooperate to provide child care for each other, they prepare many meals together, and several of them are in business together either full or part-time. They have rituals in their yards and fly flags with pentagrams on them and don’t worry about what the neighbors might think or whether someone is going to call the police about the Beltane fires. (And incidentally, the neighborhood, which was in a deteriorating area, has experienced a significantly decreased crime rate.)
- Across the country, an acquaintance lives in a great big house near a major university campus with a core group of five other single parents and their children of various ages (her daughter and some of the others have grown up in those years). Other people, with and without children, have come and gone over the twenty years they’ve been there. They share everything—food, money, childcare responsibilities, transportation, etc. Some of them are lovers and some are not, but they all share certain core values, have made commitments to each other, and are standing by those commitments no matter who might be sleeping with whom.
None of these groups is perfect. They all have their good and not-so-good points—but they’re all ICs. What they have in common is that none of these people are alone. None of them are isolated. In the last three examples, nobody is struggling to handle life without a human support system. They don’t have latchkey children unless that’s by choice. If their cars break down, they don’t worry about who to call for help. If they’re ill or injured, their community rallies around them to help. If they have a new baby, they have many people with whom to celebrate the child’s birth.
Now, I don’t really want to live in the first kind of IC, simply because it isn’t enough community for me—the second and third examples are much closer to my own dreams. I don’t really think somebody can build a place, say “buy property here and you’re part of a community!” and have it work. (Most of those places are pretty darned expensive, too.) Still, they are enough community for some people.
Back when my former life partner and I were raising our children (my daughter, his son, and his daughter), we were fortunate enough to be part of is a loose network of friends who were more like family, people whose kids we would take at a moment’s notice when their normal childcare fell through. People with whom we celebrated our religious holidays. People who helped each other move and borrowed each others’ vehicles when needed. People who could trust each other with keys to their houses and who didn’t hesitate to hug or reprimand each others’ children as needed. We were close enough to one family that being near them was definitely a deciding factor when it was time to move. We were close enough to a single friend that our kids called him “Uncle” and his motorcycle stayed parked in our garage. Other friends had a standing invitation to stay the night or stay the week, as needed, whenever they were in town. When their everyday childcare arrangements needed adjusting (somebody was sick, it was a school holiday, they had business trips, etc.), I expected that they would give us an opportunity to enjoy their children’s company.
Honestly, I would have been thrilled if we could all have found homes in one neighborhood. As a child, I lived within walking distance of several aunts and one grandmother, and it was marvelous. I’d love to have had a similar situation for our kids and those of our friends.