Back in 2008, as my former spouse snored next to me, I awoke fresh from an Eddie Vedder dream. That is to say, Mr. Vedder came to me in a dream, with a very specific message, “It won’t matter in ten years, because we will all be living in communes.”
At the time, I was plagued with worry over the impending loss of our home. The economy was tanking. I had been laid off. My husband, an artist who also worked in the construction trades, had his hours deeply cut. Both of us knew that bankruptcy was next, and that abandoning our mortgage in Teton Valley, Idaho would come along with that decision.
Life comes with heartbreak, but it also comes with dreams of Eddie Vedder. I informed my partner that everything would be okay, because we would all be living in communes in ten years. He laughed and so did I. And deep inside my idealist heart, I could not help but hope it might be true.
When I look back on the difficult decision to put our lives as homeowners behind us, I remember the anguish and the ripple effect it had on our relationship. Hard things are hard. But from my own perspective, the difficulty was easier to bear because of the community that surrounded us.
We lived in a mountain town, high above the plains of urban existence. At 6,200 feet, our home required hardiness. The winters were notoriously long, to the tune of six to seven months. No joke. In those climes, you either become totally isolated, or you connect on a community level.
Yes, we lost our home. But we found a rental. I lost my job, but I found another. We struggled, but we made it through. By no measure did we do any of this on our own. We found a rental because of the ties we had to the Teton Arts Council. I found a job because the work I tackled for the local newspaper connected me. Our recovery was community.
Within two years after that, I found myself assigned to a workshare for the summer on a high altitude organic farm. I got paid in produce. We were still struggling, but this effort to tend the earth and reap the reward of her bounty padded our pantry. It remains as one of the most satisfying things I have ever done with my time and energy. And again, it was community that led me to it.
What are the degrees of community? You’ve got your household. Then your friends and extended family. You’ve got your neighborhood. You’ve got your town or city, your state, the country you live in, and then level by level, you are looking down at our planet from space. This is also your community. And you share it with 7.8 billion other people.
It’s difficult to see our lives on that global scale. Especially with regard to living in the body of an American. As a nation, we have historically been a united force to be reckoned with. But on a granular level as individuals, it is every man for himself. Our capitalist society defines the quality of our lives. Maybe some of us would like to think on a global level. But often, we are just trying to scrape together a living and hope that tomorrow will be okay.
In my current situation, my household community is a party of one. Then, my family of friends and relatives who are both geographically close and scattered. My neighborhood is my apartment building and the surrounding streets of Fort Collins. And then there is Colorado itself, in all its mountainous glory, sitting in what is close to the middle of a vast country that is also my community.
I do love all levels of this communal structure, and find that keeping a connection alive comes in many vital forms. But let’s back up a second. The roof over my head is what concerns me the most. I’m not going to lie.
Maintaining an income so that I don’t starve or lose the sanctity of the 720 square feet that I call home is my main priority. Would I be enabled to join a workshare on a farm this summer in order to bolster my sense of community and connection to the earth? Well, no. I am guessing that taking one day off a week to pull weeds under the glorious Colorado sky is probably not part of the corporate lifestyle I am tied to.
Why couldn’t I just make a jump and work on a farm as a way of life? Could I live the Eddie Vedder dream and ditch it all for a commune? Thanks to my faulty pancreas, probably not. Sadly, I need to buy insulin to live. The practical approach to this situation is to stay protected under the plan of capitalism.
In this regard, I also think of my own longevity. I’m GenX and pushing 50. That means that I have 15 more years of labor left in this workforce. Wait. Who I am kidding? I’m an American, so I will work until I’m dead.
So let’s just say that between the Type I Diabetes and the stress of existing, I live to see 70. Medical needs aside, will I end up subverting my need for community in order to satisfy what is right in front of me? Will I proceed with a sense of having to “get mine” in order to survive, with no regard for the lives of others?
I really hope not.
We need to feel connected to one another. My own sense of responsibility to live this truth is to lead with my spirituality, and remember that we share this space, this experience, and this planet. The kindness you cast into the world matters as much as the cruelty. Choose the better of the two, always.
It can be hard to remember this, when so many of us feel defeated. But to rise above your own pain in order to connect with another is a form of spirituality and community. This gesture makes all the difference, when we know we can affect positive change simply by treating one another better.
While it is true that Eddie Vedder is a little late in his prediction, I am hoping my path will continue to be met with the support of community. In the end, I hope to be surrounded by the humans I love – my chosen family and those I have been assigned to in this world by blood. And up to that point, I hope a shared table will have been central to my life, and the meaningful gesture of proceeding in this world with care will have been a part of my daily existence.
We need one another on a global scale. To ignore this is to deny our own humanity. To embrace it means acknowledging that we are the same, rather than different. That is so much of what community has to be, whether it exists in an Eddie Vedder commune dream or in the reality of your daily life. One need only take action in kindness in order to participate.