Years ago, a wise not-so-old Rabbi told a group of us that as life sped up, as the pace of change increased its velocity based on our hyper-connected, mega-mall society of choices, we should seek out safe and sacred communities of people to hold on to and nurture for our health.
At the time I asked, “Is this a ploy to get us to be active in our synagogue?” to which he replied, “This has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with being human.”
Today I have come to appreciate deeply the wisdom of his advice.
On Saturday, at the end of a(nother) long week of dismay, outrage, and overwhelming emotion, I gathered with one of my favorite safe and sacred communities – the Lovely Luscious Ladies of Linden Hills.
This group of women began based on shared geography alone. We didn’t go to the same schools, or work in the same industries, or even worship in the same manner. We raised our children together, living side by side and across the street in one of the loveliest neighborhoods in America. Yes, our differences were slight – we had different professional pursuits – an artist, a nurse, an extraordinary volunteer and homemaker, a consultant – and we were Catholic, Jewish, agnostic, and protestant. But what we shared proved important – a strong sense of fun, optimistic outlooks on life, and a desire to get outside during the glorious summers of Minnesota. That was it.
It started simply enough one summer Friday afternoon -- the youngest of the children were in the wading pool with older siblings showing off new bikes, trikes, and other devices with wheels. The older kids down the block joined in, showing deferential care for the youngest and appropriate goading to the older kids. And one of us parental types noted there were boxes of macaroni and cheese in the cupboard that would feed the collection of kids.
Another of the moms noted that the weather was just right for a G&T, and wouldn’t that be fun. In no time, Friday afternoons became a time to toast the end of another summer week and the continued health of our kids. It was a low threshold entry, wholly supportive and nurturing for the mothers and an opportunity to feed a collection of kids with one pot of cooking.
When we planned this year’s gathering six weeks ago, all we knew for certain is that we missed getting together with this group of women who no longer lived in the same neighborhood, and we thought it would be fun to spend a day together as we had when our children were young. We planned to walk to the city lake two blocks away, go for a swim to the diving dock, and return for an afternoon with the Tula Spa ladies who would provide massages and facials to a few at a time while the rest noshed, laughed, and shared deep thoughts on the porch. It was planned lusciousness.
It also turned out to be a blood pressure dropping exhale for all of us and a deeply therapeutic gathering for The Ladies.
When we met, we were so much younger, which means we all had more energy. And we had yet to taste the pains and hurts that human living can bring to the best of us. There was no hint of divorces, illness, addictions, or injuries much less surgeries to replace parts - and we were far from being the oldest generation in our families – parents were still visiting and making us feel that life was a very long journey.
Now we know better. Twenty-five years have passed since that first summer of gatherings. We now know that being human can be painful, that aging isn’t for wimps, and that life is fleeting and fast.
In the span of a lifetime, we humans tend to cluster with people who are just like us. It’s a tendency that is proving to be deadly and disastrous for our democracy. We tend to have little understanding and therefore tolerance for those who are different - with different perspectives, different experiences, different religions or cultures, and then we fail to see that we are all fundamentally human.
That’s why our recent Saturday together was so special. We know we’re all humans who don’t see each other often enough any more. We got busy with the doing, the raising, the coping, the ambitions, and the details of 21st Century lives. But the love and fondness and core optimism in the face of all evidence to the contrary remains.
It turns out that this group of women is exactly the sort of safe and sacred community the Rabbi was talking about. We’ve learned that there is little we can say or do when we’re together that won’t be ultimately accepted and supported – the burden shared and thereby lessoned – and we continue to love the women behind the eyes we see with our bifocal lenses.