As I was trying to decide what to blog about-I struggled a bit. One reason being blogging isn’t particularly one of my most favorite things in the world. But also, because there haven’t been any super noteworthy events or major life crisis since our return from the holidays to report. There’s lots of snow(to a southern girl that is) which is certainly beautiful along the frozen Susquehanna but not particularly enthralling to read about. Something that seemed worth reading but also applicable to our entire community for the community blog was oddly more difficult than I’d originally thought. But sitting in the kitchen watching pancakes being made, I opted for one of the truest communal things we do. Though hardly novel, humanity has been gathering for meals for literally ever, our weekly community dinner seems to be the perfect microcosm of community life at the Sycamore House.
In general, someone or a small group decide what to make based on what we’ve had recently, what we have at the house, what’s on sale, personal craving, any roadkill along the river etc the week ahead of time (usually the Sunday before because we all know group dynamics insist we will all put off ha). From then on, it is a constant exercise in communication which in and of itself describes most of community living. It seems to me that the goal of this whole endeavor, is to foster relationships in some capacity with those in our immediate surroundings, in our case the women we live with. And what are relationships if not communication verbal and otherwise?!?Particulars aside,I’d hate to bore you with the gory details of grocery shopping, we also chose to assign tasks for each meal that are assigned by the same person who chose the meal. This is often the part that gets hairy and quite possibly why I find the whole meal metaphoric at all. Just like life in the house, rolls are in theory divided up and shared among the individuals such that a seamless meal preparation and presentation can be put on. Not that community dinner is some type of disingenuous show we put on but rather when guests arrive, we have our welcome hats on regardless of the rest of the day.
Personally, I usually find myself anxiously wondering during the prep work: who will show up this week? Do we have enough food? Has that weird stain on the carpet always been that color? Is anyone going to notice? But when I think about it, these are the same questions that I ask of my community members and myself each and every day of this grand experiment. Who is going to “show up?” Formally, I thought it (and nothing but that) the day I moved in with strangers and each Friday morning discussion when we gather in the living room. But, we also ask it in everyday simple interaction-am I going to be the raw, stressed out, joyous, often few-days-without-a-shower self or a guarded, reserved, tense, timid version? What about the sarcastic, silly one? Not that one is particularly any better than the other, but like we prepare for anyone to ring our doorbell Tuesday nights, we as a community also agree to welcome all of those sides of all our housemates. Which, also like dinner, is a very real, exhausting and rewarding challenge. Likewise, my other anxieties could equally be translated. We ask is the energy I’m providing today enough? Can and will someone pick up slack today for me? Are my community members going to realize I’m more out of it than usual today?How vulnerable am I/is she willing to be in this situation? Though never as clearly answered at their food counterparts, there is a similarity in that answers for these questions don’t really matter. Like the food that miraculously never runs out or leaves overwhelming leftovers regardless of what we do, these are the things that force us to experience our lives together, force us to build some semblance of an intentional community.
Similarly, most weeks there is some element of tension as responsibility for pieces of the meal inevitably are never perceived to be evenly divided or someone is late or disappears early or has had a rough day at work. In all honestly, it really is hard to get home at 6 and go directly into prep with housemates chatting and putting on the hostess hat-its an incredibly long day. But that seems to be indicative of our lives together too. They are not always pretty. We are 7 women who do not always get along or even want to be in each other’s presence much less happy about an obligated social gathering. There are weeks where I detest community dinner and the idea of going home to it. But this too illustrates the days in community life. Its suppose to be hard. It’s suppose to force us outside of our comfort zone. If living life together was a sinch everyone would do it all the time. But just like those meals where I am coerced, by either my roommates or own internal sense of personal responsibility to chat with strangers (some of whom have become regulars at this point) and friends and parish members I often feel compelled by some of their examples or that same nagging conscience to be present. Present in the meal, present in the house, present in relationships, present in my job, and present in this part of life right here and right now.
I would be kidding you all and myself if I pretended to be self aware enough to realize all of this weekly as meals take place, carefully taking notes so I can write an elaborate metaphor later. Nonetheless, I think I learn something each week. Either about myself, about a housemate, about a member of the Harrisburg community, in my case about life north of the Mason Dixon line! And that has varied from how to make scrambled eggs(an odd task for a non egg eater), to the fact that googling “christian fellowship Harrisburg” brings up our house, or even just the art of patience. But isn’t that the point? Like life in the Sycamore House, or perhaps life in general, community dinners certainly aren’t all sunshine or roses but good food can fix most things right? Or at least bring people together long enough to put such burdens aside. Perhaps on a good day even find someone to help carry it.