by Meridith Owensby
At first glance, the particularities of pandemic life are awful for intentional community. You should not socialize unnecessarily. You should not sing together. You should stay six feet away from one another at all times. Your kids can’t go to school and shouldn’t hang out with other kids. If ever there was an argument to be made against intentional, high-density communal housing, this is it.
And yet, I would argue that our community’s existence and practices have served to preserve joy and hope during this pandemic season. In fact, we even found ways to embrace new life rhythms together. I find myself grateful for being with the people I’m with and our ability to find joy and creativity amid so much uncertainty.
Let me tell you about how we’ve supported one another during this spring and summer.
Honna, our green-thumbed community member, focused her energy on improving the quality of our outdoor spaces. We have two yards between our two houses, and both lots needed some love. Honna managed to tackle the weeds and increase the beauty all over. The Jean Donovan house hammock looks out on the vibrant edible landscaping, and except for the lament of the perennial catmint (it doesn’t even taste good!), we are well pleased with our catalpa-shaded patch of ground.
Honna also turned up the volume on her culinary pursuits. With the gift of a large instapot, Honna let her curry-cooking abilities shine. We’ve had amazingly delicious dal. We had paneer, an improvisation when we suddenly came into a large donation of soon to expire half and half. Honna began making kombucha, and the flavors she’s tried (pineapple jalapeno! mango passionfruit!) have been well-received. And the bread baking! Did I mention the baguettes? I will not soon forget the Niçoise salad picnic where they featured.
Our in-house community organizer, Mary Ellen, managed to find ways to connect us to our neighbors during this socially distanced time. My favorite was her box fort competition. Tapping Ben and former associate Taylor as “celebrity judges,” families had from 9 am to 5 pm on a Tuesday to construct the forts, using only tape, boxes, and paint. At 5, the judges circulated, and prizes of ice cream store gift cards were ultimately awarded to the best overall, most creative, and most structurally sound. From geodesic domes to sprawling castes, the resulting structures were highly impressive!
Mary Ellen also organized an evening of outdoor music. Two of our neighbor musicians paired up with their violin and keyboard for an evening performance. A neighbor with a large backyard offered to host. Families were able to come and keep their distance while occasionally offering requests to the duo. We even put on our best going out clothes for the event. It felt special, the sort of thing we’d do even without a pandemic motivating us.
To facilitate adventures outside our geographic bubble, I channeled my “always on the lookout for the next interesting cultural event” energy into the world of urban exploration. Using a book I’d obtained from the library just before the pandemic closure, I planned walking tours through different nearby neighborhoods. Since these tours were happening in the evening, I decided we would seek out sources of carry out tacos, affordable to all of us, in each of the focus neighborhoods.
We’ve been on five of these taco tours to date, and putting our bodies into new places has been a real delight. We’ve quizzed residents of the neighborhoods on their taco recommendations as we’ve passed at a safe distance. We have joyously stumbled over soft-serve places for dessert. We have lightly trespassed to get a better view of a sunset. We have wandered into a nature preserve and marveled at the wildness waiting at the end of a nondescript street. For hours at a time, we’ve managed to forget about the pandemic, exclaiming instead over a turkey tail mushroom bigger than our outstretched hand.
Not every tour has been a success, however. Once we wandered far off course and found ourselves in an unfamiliar spot as night descended. However, the many people on their front porches happily directed us back toward the street we’d left our car. There was also the low-lying park with the sign warning of possible sewage overflow after heavy rain. We learned the hard way this was not an idle warning. We all still look forward to the next outing regardless of all the mosquito bites and sunburns we’ve accumulated.
Early into the pandemic days, Mary Ellen encouraged us to create new activities and rhythms, rather than manufacturing pale imitations of the old. This advice has made us stretch in new ways while leaning into the reliable gifts we each possess. In the coming months we’re looking to do a book study on a book we’d all meant to read (The Warmth of Other Suns), facilitating an online prayer service for our friends at a distance using a mailed liturgical kit we’ve assembled, and trying out socially distanced educational opportunities for the kids in our community who are not attending school in person in the fall. These efforts are all new to us, and we’re looking forward to learning what we are capable of!