I was going to write a post about “the kind of story I want to live” for a chance to win a couple of tickets to a Donald Miller conference in Portland this September. It sounds like a really cool conference, and Donald Miller’s books rock my socks off. But then I started reading some other people’s stories about their dreams and what has led them to want a couple of tickets to Portland. These stories were tear-jerking, knee-slapping, heart-warming, spine-tingling, and everything in between. And that made me wonder why exactly I wanted to go.
Basically, I think I just wanted to win something. And a mini-vacation to Portland sounded lovely.
Having decided that I really don’t deserve a couple of tickets to this conference, and having also decided that I really wanted to watch Friends with Kelsey and Alexa more than I wanted to write a post, I happily let the contest deadline slip by.
But the prompt for the contest keeps ringing in my head. What kind of story do you want to live? Don, I don’t think tickets to Portland would do me much good, but I do know what kind of story I want to live. This is my dream:
A couple of picnic tables are arranged end-to-end in a wide-open field bathed in the warm rays of late-afternoon sun. There are people gathered everywhere– at least two dozen of them. Conversations abound. Old men debating the severity of the approaching Winter. Women chatting about child-rearing and new recipes. Folks putting dishes of good food on the tables. Teenage boys digging into dessert before the rest of the meal. Children running everywhere, dodging between grown-ups’ legs, chasing, giggling, getting dirty.
I’ve never described this scene to anyone without being asked if I actually meant to describe the first Thanksgiving. No, it’s not the first Thanksgiving. Not even a holiday. But I suppose that’s not a terrible guess. It’s just a common meal shared by people living in community together.
Everywhere I look in this country, families of two, three, and four people build themselves into these elaborate boxes with three-car garages, a TV in every room,a breakfast nook and a formal dining room, a living room and a family room (and a great room? I’ve never quite understood all this). And who uses all of this space? Oh, just the two of them, or the three or the four. Well, of course they have the in-laws over for holidays, and the kids have a friend over after school from time to time (but not often, because mom is usually too embarrassed the that house is “such a wreck right now!” and she’s afraid that her son’s seven-year-old guest is going to go back to his family and spill the beans that the Smiths live in an absolute pit). But ninety-eight percent of the time, it’s just them at home in all that space.
They’ve got to be lonely.
In fact, I’ve noticed that most adults my parents’ ages don’t really have any real friends anymore. They have that bunch of people who they used to be really close to back in college, but now they only see each other every few years, and they have about three couples from work or church that they go out to dinner with every once in a while. But they pretty much keep the conversation at kiddie-pool depth, talking about what’s new in the office, what troubles there have been this year with the kids’ teachers, and can you even believe that they raised neighborhood association dues again this year?!?!
But who do they talk to when their marriage is on the rocks? Who do they talk to when they are completely blindsided by getting laid off at work? Who do they talk to when they start wondering for the first time since college biology class if God might actually exist? No one.
I think our society has made a norm out of isolating ourselves in unnaturally empty boxes with only a couple of other humans within reach. And we don’t even know what we’re missing.
My dream is to have a home where there is always another place setting at the table, another spot in a bed or on a couch. I want my home to be a refuge, a place where friends can come and stay for a meal or a year, and where strangers can come and stay to become friends. It will be a place to belong, and a place to rest from the world.
But I don’t know yet what exactly this is going to look like. I’ve told my friends that I think it’s stupid for five families living on one street to own five lawn mowers.
“Oh, Leah, you’re a communist?”
No. That’s not what I mean. I’m not saying that the government should come and tell me that I’m not allowed to buy a lawn mower because there’s one already provided for everyone on my street. What I’m talking about is so much more profound than that. It’s not driven by government or law. It’s driven by friendship and goodwill. I know it can’t be an easy task. Who buys the law mower? Do we all pitch in for it? Where do we keep it? Who sharpens the blades? Do we sign up for allotted times to use it? I know these are all legitimate questions. And I haven’t really worked out all of the answers. I do know that what I’m advocating isn’t exactly a commune. Private property isn’t a bad thing. The way I see it working out is less defined than a commune. Basically, once I have a home and a yard, I’m guessing I’ll wind up buying a lawn mower. And when I do, come borrow it whenever you want.