I first began to contemplate what community means in a deliberate way while living with six other women during my JVC year in San Jose, CA. Constructing meaning from every day occurrences with them helped me to understand community in a deeper way than I ever had before because the vulnerability, trust, challenge, and support we experienced did not just happen spontaneously. We had to fight for it. There are communities you participate in when you want to or when it is convenient, but real community means commitment.
Everyone in Casa Pedro Arrupe ’15-‘16 came to JVC not only with different hopes, anxieties, and excitements, but also different definitions of community and expectations of each other in community. People wanted to spend time with their significant others, to make new friends, to be alone, to explore new parts of themselves and keep others hidden, but we all agreed to show up week after week at business meetings, spirituality nights, community nights, and family dinners. Yes, we committed to show up for each other at least four nights a week for a whole year, no matter the circumstances. We showed up in celebration and in grief. In annoyance and distraction. In trepidation and courageousness. We showed up and participated (even if minimally) over and over for one another, and that made all the difference.
Because community is nice until someone steals the cinnamon and you cannot complete your morning oatmeal with the necessary spice. Community is great until you are on hour 16 of 22 of the Thanksgiving road trip and you have had nothing to eat but trash bag bagels and Grocery Outlet granola bars for the past three days. Community is fun until you play “most likely to” and find out everyone has indeed pegged you as “most likely to have the least fun.” Community is easy breezy until you are exhausted, disappointed, overwhelmed, upset, or aloof and asked to share during a check-in. And until community asks you to still show up in the midst of all of this, there is no real community at all.
However, real community is hard to define. Early in my year as a JV, I had all of us spend time writing individual poems finishing the prompts: “Community is…” and “JVC is…” with single phrase responses for one of our weekly Community Night gatherings. Then, after sharing with one another, I collected the lines everyone was willing to contribute and combined them with my own to create one poem for all of us. A poem of shared experience to remind us of the task we had undertaken: to build real community with complete strangers. The poem we compiled is below.
– making a home away from so many other homes
– knowing when to be silent and when to speak
– leaning in and Just. Being. There.
– letting your heart break over and over and not letting it harden
– hushing anxieties and embracing peace
– letting others in, when you really don’t want to open up
– finding a home in a person, or six
– reflecting on the word “home” and all the places we have called home
– detaching yourself from society’s expectations
– breathing “in God, out frustration”
– giving as freely as we have been given to
– beginning to think of the sky and roses as great luxuries, being surprised they’re free
– eating beans & rice and rice & beans but calling it something else
– off-key karaoke at dive bars
– filling up the Brita water filter
– a mismatched Tupperware cabinet
– inheriting more than old chairs and couches
– being still while being active
– understanding your own significance, but also seeing the significance in every living creature too
– accepting the kindness and generosity of others
– realizing that I don’t have all the answers
– choosing every day to write the story, and love the story, and share the story
– letting go and being present
– being raw
– being here
For me, this poem represents my understanding of the way commitment builds community much like consistency builds trust. Both require follow through and structure; both take time. By the end of our JVC year, my housemates and I were a community because we stuck together through the endless flux of not always liking each other while trying to love one another. And that commitment did not guarantee an authentic community, but it made one possible.
Since my year with JVC, I have continued to reflect on what community is and means in my life. Finding or creating community outside of a structured program (like college, JVC, or other pre-arranged group of people) can be difficult, but I only have to call to mind a group of seven women who were vastly different in order to remind me of the possibilities. For all of the challenges, disagreements, and piles of dirty dishes we had, I am ever grateful for learning what real community means from the ladies of Casa P.
Photo by Cami Kasmerchak