It's been six months since my husband and I moved the last box from our home at Rolling Ridge to our place in the cohousing community we have been part of visioning, building, and weaving together for more than a decade. Now when I look out the window over my desk I see a narrow band of oaks, firs, and maples ringing cottages clustered in twos and threes with small yards overflowing with all manner of native and medicinal plants. The sky overhead is wide and wild. The field to the south stretches to the horizon, just beyond the community's meticulously tended permaculture garden. On the north, the cottages form a gentle "U" looking toward the Common House, the central hearth and shared home of our community.
There are 30 households sheltering 52 souls in Shepherd Village. My days are filled with conversation, meetings, common work, shared meals. I find myself drawn back and more deeply into communion with the close-in, human warp and woof of the vast web of all beings.
Shepherd Village began with a thought among a handful of friends who had been in community for decades that we might grow old together and build a place to hold such a common life. Over the years, others joined in creating this possibility, and now we have a village designed for elders. Because we are elders, frailty and death are also our close companions.
The tasks of maintenance and social life at Shepherd Village are accomplished in teams. The Common House Care Team has initiated a practice of inviting a team member to offer a sharing as the meeting begins. This is what I shared recently:
Our beloved Marty’s passing awakened in me the wild realization that I too will die here, that here is where I will lay down my life, that you are the people I will die among. These days, months, anticipated years are therefore sacred, a fleeting and holy time, a minute-by-gifted minute chance to be present, to love. Scholar, author, and wild man Martin Shaw says, “What I’ve seen in my rounds is that if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to reflect at the end of a life, then love is revealed as the great currency. It’s the thing. The treasury. It’s what mattered. Few gloat on a business success or property portfolio at that point or how they royally screwed someone over. How well did I love? whom did I love? and how was love central to the life that I made for myself?”
That makes me wonder, do I truly want to spend these sacred hours fretting about how much things cost, about who is charged for what, or who gets to come to dinner in the Common House?
The other day I came across a reflection for our general community meeting that I had written in 2018, when the Common House was a maze of timbers. I had titled it “Imperfection”. It played with the thought that we had hardly begun to learn how to be a community, that there were surely many stumbles ahead, many times when we would let each other down, but that this was good news. It quoted Michael Meade, a storyteller and mythologist, saying “There are old stories that show that if the world was ever completed, was ever made perfect, that would be the end of [things]…this world and each person in it remains an unfinished project, and remains because of being incomplete….The impossible tasks, the broken hearts, the utter failures actually sustain the world.”
This tender picture of our fledgling community uncovers my early trust that Shepherd Village was woven with intention: intention to live by the currency of love, to go forward even though I knew that sooner or later we would break each other’s hearts. Hearts can only be broken if they are there in the first place.
Years later, I know that there are at least 52 perspectives and understandings of community and what it means at Shepherd Village. The strange thing is that the more the diversity reveals itself, the deeper my plumb line descends to what for me is the heart of matter.
Padraig O’Tuama, a priest with long experience as a leader of Corrymeala, a peace and reconciliation community in Northern Ireland, said in an interview for the podcast On Being, “Agreement has rarely been the mandate for people who love each other.” Being both Irish and a poet, he had another way of describing this rough, imperfect but resilient experience of community. He said, “There’s a phrase from West Kerry that says, 'You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore'.”
Back in 2018, I concluded my reflection with a description of a walk through of the Common House, the very Common House that this team now has care of, the hearth and home of our community. I wrote:
It was a bitterly cold day as we clambered up over the high threshold of the common house and awkwardly tied the safety helmets under our chins. We tromped through the building, at that point a confusing mass of timbers framing unrecognizable rooms and spaces. We lingered in the future dining room, with its sun-filled windows and high airy ceiling. Greg [our guide] pointed out the kitchen opening to the room, and the area where the tables would be. It was possible then to see us seated around, leaning into conversations, and to hear the gentle laughter, stories, quiet questions, soft murmurs of connection flowing around the room, smell the aroma of good home-cooked food, and know the place where we’ll stand on the day when our feet are sore.