Ordinary Magic

by Marybeth Paul on December 13, 2013

In the early spring of 1978, having fled SoCal for a less populated area, I drove north on Hwy 101 without a particular destination in mind. My every earthly possession was crammed into my green convertible MG, and The Quest was under way. The back story is that while I knew I was searching for connection, a more meaningful existence, and for my very self, I was entirely unaware of what any of that might look like. I didn’t have a guidebook, (who does?) or a map like in a treasure hunt, but I was on a Quest just the same. I trusted that I would somehow recognize what I was looking for, if and when it showed up.

The most significant discovery in that era for me was that of community. I met a young woman who, 35 years later, is one of my closest friends. As we got acquainted strolling from coffee shop to bookstore in her hometown of Carmel, it looked to me as if everyone knew her by name. “Hey, Cassandra, how’s your mom?”, “Hi Cassandra, I saw your brother the other day…”,  “Hi Cassandra, Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in weeks!”.

She and I were in that most lovely phase of friendship when all is new and wondrous. But this was beyond wondrous! It was an unprecedented experience for me to witness shopkeepers and ordinary folk exchanging inquires about one another’s families, extending well wishes. How in the world had she gone about creating this magic? How might I have this kind of friendliness in my life?

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, youngest in a family of five that I realize now was quite isolated. We didn’t know the mail carrier or the clerk at the grocery store, and we most definitely didn’t exchange comments with people on the street. We went to church, but left for home immediately after mass. By the time I was 13 we had moved four times, twice cross-country, and always to different school districts. Although my parents socialized with one other family occasionally, there was a strong undercurrent of keeping to ourselves. “Mind your own business” was a cliche taken seriously in my household. No wonder I wasn’t greeted by name as I walked down the street!

Community is at the core of what my soul was longing for all those years ago and I will be forever grateful to Cassandra for showing me what that type of connection can look like. There was a gap between witnessing that connection at age 23 and finally calling it into my own life almost 10 years later. I learned to create community as I began having children by seeking out other moms who were looking for the same thing. Who knew that some of those friendships would thrive for over a quarter of a century?

Whether it’s been with other parents, peers in the healing arts, or with neighbors, I have found the value of community to be of the greatest importance in my life. Through community I have the sense of belonging I missed while in the chaos of growing up. I am cared for and I care for those in my community.  As a health professional, I refer to and am referred to by those in my work community. I relate to people with whom my kids attended school; we keep up on the lives of one another’s children as well as catching up on our own lives. I’m proud of having organized a block party in my neighborhood that met last summer for the 11th year! We didn’t always know each other by name.

Long before the movement to “network”, people would ask a neighbor who her dentist is, tell the guy at the gas station where to get those great tomato plants or share with our kids new teacher about the cool place to see the sunset. Deliberately seeking the company of others who share my values seems obvious, but it wasn’t the model I grew up with. Perhaps that contributes to the enormity of my gratitude. Community continues to ground me, provides great friendliness, and gives me the place to come home to.

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