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. 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 novels 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 that my partner and our children and I will some day 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 rents 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.
- Two married couples, each with one young child, 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 online acquaintance lives in a great big house near a major university campus with her teenaged daughter and a core group of five other single parents and their children of various ages. Other people, with and without children, have come and gone over the fifteen 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 are 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. And 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.
What we have, at the moment, is a loose network of friends who are more like family, people whose kids we will take at a moment’s notice when their normal childcare falls through. People with whom we celebrate our religious holidays. People who help each other move and borrow each other’s vehicles when needed. People who can trust each other with keys to their houses and who don’t hesitate to hug or reprimand each other’s children as needed. We are close enough to one family that being near them will definitely be a deciding factor when it’s time for us to move again. We’re close enough to a single friend that our kids call him “Uncle” and his motorcycle stays parked in our garage. Other friends have a standing invitation to stay the night or stay the week, as needed, whenever they’re in town. When their everyday childcare arrangemets need adjusting (somebody’s sick, it’s a school holiday, they have business trips, etc.) I expect that they’ll give us an opportunity to enjoy their children’s company.
Honestly, I’d be thrilled if we could all find homes in one neighborhood. As a child, I lived within walking distance of three aunts and one grandmother, and it was marvelous—I’d love to have a similar situation for our kids and those of our friends. I’m not holding my breath, but I hope it happens someday. Sharing a huge home with enough personal and communal space for more than one nuclear family would be even better, but those kinds of houses are few and far between and we’re not able to design and build our own right now. But I do keep dreaming.