Every community has its rules, written and unwritten. Beginning with the first and deepest imprint of our family, we then extend group participation as part of schools, jobs, places of worship, art collectives, performance groups, hobbies, sports teams, political parties, and country. We learn to read the signs of how the group works. It is a mammalian trait to find our place and fit into the flock or herd because our lives depend upon it. If we flaunt those rules, we become outsiders either forming a default alternative group or learn to function alone. Even if you are a hermit living off the grid, it is in relationship to a rejected community.
I am now living in an intentional community, a CCRC, (learning new acronyms is a necessary part of becoming a member). Kendal is a Continuing Care Retirement Community, and a particularly good one at that. Because it indeed provides care throughout the life and death of a member, this includes skilled nursing once you have reached the stage of losing your independence due to the ensuing physical complications of your aging body. There are state rules and inspections, mountains of paperwork for the staff, and laws that must be followed.
Moving into the designated assisted living area of Kendal, I am within one of the smallest groups. The majority live here independently in cottages or apartments. There is another small group of those living down my hall in a dementia unit or in another wing for those who are physically unable to care for themselves. Being compromised by MS, I need the support of having my meals provided and my linens changed, but can fully determine my own daily acitivities. Now that I have use of a scooter, I can get to them and back to my room on my own throughout this large campus.
I am different because I am a good 20 to 30+ years younger than the majority of the residents. I have met many who can literally run rings around me. They are busy all day every day with committees that serve both Kendal and interface with the town and the academic community of Oberlin college. They are a group of political, creative, savvy folks. Kendal was founded on Quaker ideals so there is a strong culture of enacting social justice with solid underlying moral values and spiritual concern for all. This begins as an individual and flows out to Kendal and the larger world.
As a newcomer I am still in observation mode though not for long. I am willingly being called forth to offer my skills as someone who loves music, singing, dance and spiritual pursuits. I am co-leading a small group that meets every other Sunday for Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) with a Presbyterian minister who wanted to retire from offering a Sunday service at age 85. Instead I was asked as my role as an interfaith minister to assist him when he agreed to offer readings from scripture for contemplation. I sing a hymn to start and finish the hour and am offering suggestions in how to approach silent contemplation which was a new practice for him. Of the handful that attend, two or three can interact with us, others are simply present within their non-verbal beings.
More opportunities for song and initiating a meditation group are in the making. I have even had a meeting with the admirable powerhouse women who organize such things about creating a dance for the ‘Spring Fling’ in April. I visualize choreographing a piece performed by people from my end of the more compromised Kendal world. I had a vision of each of us moving as we can with canes, walkers, wheelchairs and scooters in patterns and designs across the auditorium floor. I haven’t got a theme or the music yet but I was granted 5-8 minutes in a 16×30 foot space in the middle of the auditorium floor to contribute to the annual celebration.
I have blundered my way into the writing crowd and will see if any of my pieces will be accepted for a fine literary magazine published at Kendal three times a year. Clever little mammal that I am I have sought out the right people to find a way in to use my talents. There are the right ways and means to become part of this community and I have committed several faux pas already as the new actual ‘kid’ on the block. Committee leaders see me as fresh blood though I need to be upfront that though I am younger than their own children and I look younger than that (genes, I assure you) my body is older than theirs, and I have little endurance for long hours of doing anything.
As to unwritten rules, for one, I find that you don’t take your cell phone with you. The very occasional ring during a meeting or activity is actually frowned upon by all faces present. Unless you have an urgent call coming in, phones do not appear anywhere at mealtimes. Granted, as it is an elder community there are many who don’t relate to the world of internet. On the other hand, there is also the official ‘geek squad” of volunteers who help you if you have trouble with the technology here. Some of these are folks who worked on original early IBM mainframe computers and who kept up with all the rapid changes that have endlessly multiplied in their lifetimes.
Rules help to create healthy boundaries in all communities. I am both amused by and humbly grateful for learning them as Kendal becomes my final home community.