The Alice Lane “Kibbutz”
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
– Brene Brown, Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work
Sean and I drove a Penske across the country in August of 2005, making stops in exotic places like Cheyenne, Wyoming and Elko, Nevada Our final destination was a small, dead-end street in Menlo Park California called Alice Lane, where a little apartment I had never seen awaited us and our truck full of our most prized possessions (I had been out of the country that summer, so Sean had gone solo to find a place to live). As we drove through cornfields and across mountains – clicking off states one by one – I became increasingly curious, nervous, excited, and terrified to see this place we were going to call home for the next few years.
The apartment was small, but bright. The sidewalk outside smelled like sweet flowers. We could walk to a café. There were no bugs. My concern about this new home…and this new life…faded away as we walked to dinner at a corner French place where we ate mussels and french fries and laughed about our adventures in the Penske.
We ended up staying in that apartment for five years, one marriage, two children, and multiple jobs…and even today, I feel nostalgic for how rooted I felt there, despite how transient it could have felt. This rootedness…this sense of belonging…didn’t come from the place itself or our things that filled it or the life we built in it. It came from having a strong sense of community.
Our nickname for the Alice Lane place was the kibbutz, which was fitting because it was a four-plex occupied by three Israeli families and us. Over time, we passively and actively began to understand the intricacies of each other’s lives. We ate casual dinners together. We got to know each other’s families when they came to visit. And as time went on, we took care of each other’s kids. There wasn’t much space to play in our tiny apartments, so the kids played alongside the sweet flowers lining the sidewalk – splashing in a little pool, looking for bugs, and learning to walk. It made me feel happy to come home to an assortment of toys scattered outside instead of just an empty, quiet house.
This experience really helped me understand how important community is in feeling grounded and rooted and well. We know that longevity and well-being data (http://www.bluezones.com) points to community being critical to being healthy. But according to an article in Psychology Today, the number of close confidants (people with whom they would feel comfortable sharing a problem) Americans reported having in 1996 was three, and by 2004, it dropped to one, with 25% of Americans saying that they have no one to confide in. This may be, in part, due to our high mobility and increasingly busy lives. Census Data tells us that just 59% of people today reside in the state in which they were born (see state-by-state breakdown below).
Community is difficult to find, takes time to build, and takes effort to maintain. But in my experience, it’s what makes memories. The other families in the kibbutz never became our best friends…in fact, we’re only in touch with them sporadically now. But nonetheless, they mark that phase of our lives. A sense of community doesn’t need to come from your home (although that’s sometimes the easiest and the strongest)…it can be cultivated in lots of different ways. So wherever you find it, invest in it. Make it amazing. Build your village.
How do you build and keep community in your life? Did you happen upon it, or do something to create strong social connections? And if you don’t have it, what can you do today to take a step toward deeper relationships with the people around you?