Wendell Berry might have been on to something when he said, "A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members -- among them the need to need one another."
After leaving a picturesque liberal arts college my life quickly changed. I entered seminary on the East Coast, but a month before leaving my aunt told my parents I was gay. Struggling with the emotions due to a strained relationship and the pressures of a new location, new friends, and a new way of life, I decided my best option was to drop-out. Not knowing what to do, I taught high school English for six weeks, and eventually relocated to a new city with only the thought of being near friends -- no job prospect in sight.
During my frenzied move and frenetic desire to find a job fast, I applied to a local university for graduate school, figuring that it would be a good way to make friends, keep me occupied while keeping loans away, and allow me to work towards a new goal. The rich community life I loved so much in my undergraduate experience was not present in graduate school. In college I was a teaching assistant, dorm RA, hall senator, and, eventually, student body president. I had friends in class, in dorms, and on the faculty. In graduate school I was the youngest in my program, often getting perplexing looks when I stated I want to move through the program quickly and become a teacher at a university. What I encountered was different than my undergraduate milieu of classmates -- people my parents' age looking for a new career path; others who dreamed of becoming the Next Famous Writer; people who complained about not getting As. Yes, I did make wonderful friends and those friends and I share our writing, get together for drinks, and have enriching conversation, but what I had not factored in my application to graduate school was that these other people had lives, and families, and obligations that brought them to class tired and already stressed from a full day at work. They didn't need a twenty-something looking for a friend who would add more to their already full schedules.
Despite not finding the sense of community I hoped for, I stuck with graduate school. I continued my search to find a new sense of community. My requirements were that it had to bring meaning into my life, allow me to be a part of it frequently, and leave me wanting to come back. I am not about to tell you I had a Coming-to-Jesus-Moment, but the community I found did reside in a church. The community was welcoming -- especially to a gay man -- the members remembered my name, services were once a week, and, after I drank coffee and ate cookies, I knew I wanted to come back.
What I realized in looking for my new community was that I wanted a place where I felt that I could be myself, a place that acknowledged the person I am and the emotions that I feel. My church did that for me. Something else might do that for you. Maybe it is a weekly beer brewing group, volunteering at a local food shelf, taking salsa lessons, or teaching writing at a local elementary school. Whatever it is, find it. Do it often, and let it move you to feel something and to feel it deeply.
After completing my undergraduate studies, dropping out of seminary, moving to a new city, and starting graduate school, I had my first experience with depression; the second occurrence left me bed ridden for two weeks. The only time I got out of bed to let others in, was when I went to my church to be around people who truly acknowledged me, truly knew another side of me. My community allowed me to acknowledge my pain, it provided willing ears to listen, and the best gift of all was that my community helped show me that life keeps on going.
Which reminds me: We all stumble. Life after -- and even during -- college rarely looked like what I had imagined it to be, but that is part of the adventure. I am not naive to tell you it will work out, but it just might, and if you have a community to support you, it ensures that someone is there to catch you if you stumble.
The noted writer Ray Bradbury had two favorite words: zest and gusto. These words are not only fun to say, but encourage us to move, to experience, to acknowledge that life may be difficult -- especially if you're having a crisis -- and they also encourage us to move through those emotions to experience life in a new way, to seize and embrace it.
It's true: the economy is rotten, graduate school might not solve all your woes, and life might not be hunky-dory, but you have Wendell Berry to help cheer you on. Berry is a man of unconventional success: he has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow (in addition to other awards), and taught at the University of Kentucky. Berry actively chose to leave the academy and move to a farm at Lane's Landing to write, farm, and be present in community. In his poem "The Mad Farmer Liberation Front," Berry tells us to laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
Consider the facts; weigh your options; find community.
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