It was August 2009. I had been back in the states about a year, and was still trying to get my bearings. A sense of belonging, of a community to call my own was what I was looking for. I didn’t find it in the weekend cycling club. They were off and whizzing through stop signs on a Sunday morning in full spandex on their expensive road bikes, and barely looked back in time to see me, clad in denim shorts atop a–gasp–hybrid, pull over to catch my breath and wave goodbye. I didn’t find it in the crews of single volunteers who cleaned up parks and sorted through cans at the food bank while trying to find our civic-minded soul mates. I didn’t find it either at Swampfest at Wolftrap, or the church community garden I tended. On my desk at home, I had a list of farms in Virginia and North Carolina offering internships. That was my back up plan, to commune with dirt and the substance of life.
But for a brief couple of hours, in the presence of Ryan and Mandy, I managed to belong. Ryan and Mandy were passing through Eastern Village Cohousing in their epic, cross-country, bicycle-powered search for community. I was attending a meeting of a local co-housing group to learn more about the different options for setting up a living situation of like-minded people who had the intention to form a community to share one-anothers’ burdens and joys. It was a potluck, hosted in the large shared kitchen, and joined by some of the members of Eastern Village. I remember I brought tabouleh salad.
Ryan and Mandy were there, too. Most likely for some much-needed sustenance, as they were already road-weary. Eastern Village was hosting them for the night as they made their way south. I deliberately sat down at their end of the table, and we introduced ourselves. Within seconds, it was like talking with long lost friends. We didn’t have to explain ourselves or our story. Everything about each other made sense.
Mandy had struggled with increasing health issues along with the kind of existential angst common to big-hearted, social types who find themselves trying to make a difference at computers in cubicles. A definite kindred spirit there. Long-haired, inquisitive-eyed Ryan had a lifetime of activism and living-off-the-land longings on his shoulders, and sensed it was time to find a place to have it all come together in his heart. They set off together to explore some of the hundreds of communities across the U.S. formed by people who shared some sense of “there is more to life than…” in hopes of finding the community that not only completed that sentence in unity, but where “the more” was manifest.
It’s not easy forming a community with a bunch of social dissidents. Because choosing to form community outside of family in your living situation is dissident. Throw in some misfits, dreamers, artists, engineers–well, it’s all well and good to keep things laissez faire, but there is always someone who objects to cats on the premises because they scare the songbirds, or fines for not doing your share of the community chores, or cooking pots that can’t be used for animal products (or entire kitchens). The harmony of the groups is maintained by everything from anarchy to mandatory daily meetings with Robert’s rules. (I know a little about this because I explored the subject of intentional communities as part of the research for my Masters thesis.) Ryan and Mandy needed to find one where they felt that elusive sense of belonging.
After dinner, Ryan set up the video camera pointed at the little lounge area where a group went to discuss life at Eastern Village, with its geothermal heating and cooling system and green roof. We learned how they structured their community to attain harmony. I realized that I wasn’t envious of Ryan and Mandy for their courageous journey because I was on my own trip, and we were in fact fellow travelers.
I asked for their contact information so we could keep in touch. Mandy jumped up, saying, “Oh! We’ll give you one of our business cards! They’re really great. We make them out of recycled stuff!” I had visions of some soft handmade recycled paper bearing their printed information. She reappeared moments later, beaming, with a piece of paperboard cut out roughly to the size of a business card, the colorful patterns and unfinished words of whatever product it had once held on one side, their names, email addresses, and website for their project neatly written in ink on the other. Oh, how quirky and memorable and frugal and environmentally friendly! I liked these people!
Ryan and Mandy held that their dreams were within reach, but they had to reach in the right direction. So they reached. They biked. They filmed. And they finally found a community to call home. They’ve built their very own tipi at Hummingbird Community in the beautiful mountains of northern New Mexico. After more than a year living on the road, sleeping rough, enjoying the hospitality of strangers, Ryan and Mandy say their tipi feels spacious and permanent. You can read about how, after visiting 95 communities, they came to choose Hummingbird, here. I remember reading how some members of that community take turns being a “super samaritan” to their outside community on a regular basis, and just devote their entire day to actively seeking out ways to help out strangers. One of them drove the interstate helping out stranded motorists.
Now we come to the point of all this. My Christmas gift to my fellow sojourners Mandy and Ryan is to help them raise the last little bit of funds they need to finish and distribute their film, Within Reach. It is a film that will inspire many. They have many trailers and teasers on their website. It is all quality stuff, and very real. They have a campaign going on Kickstarter, which aims to raise $25,000 by Christmas day. They are less than $4,000 away from that goal now, because so many people believe in them and want to see this movie touch the lives of many.
You can donate a dollar, donate a hundred dollars, pre-purchase a DVD, or just share the link with your friends who might be in a position and of a mind to give. The cool thing about kickstarter is that unless the campaign reaches its goal of $25,000 by Christmas, no one gets charged. It’s $25,000 or bust, folks. They’re so close. Let’s help them out… the $25,000 they need to show the world the options for living is within reach. Go here to donate, learn more, or watch trailers.