One of the first things I noticed about the hospital at Oasis, is that they left the patients’ room doors open. Unless the doctors were discussing confidential information with the patient, there was plenty of freedom to come and go, and to visit each other as we pleased. In fact, that kind of interaction seemed to be promoted.
I should not have been surprised. It was just another part of the community atmosphere that is encouraged there.
Unlike the typical hospital, this was a place where all types of people could come together and find strength in the uncommon ground of suffering. A place where mealtimes were shared in a large open dining room and conversation happened frequently in hallways. Where the face of cancer invited you to come closer, not to run further away. And where pain was not something to be afraid of, but to embrace with courage and love.
In the months after my dad’s death, I began to see how badly I needed that in my own life. Not only had I lost a major part of my identity, my husband and I had just moved to a big new place where we did not know a single soul. My plans for the future lay in pieces, and now I was a lonely twenty-seven year old girl with no friends and no dad.
I subconciously began to look for people who could handle my pain. Everywhere and anywhere. Churches, bars, airports, parks and public restrooms. It didn’t matter.
When you’re lonely, you don’t care where you meet a friend.
And surprisingly enough, they were out there. I made a lifelong friend at one of those bars, when we came there for a live music show and John and I had unknowingly taken her and her boyfriend’s seats! Just before that, a friend of mine from South Carolina moved in with a young couple just a few miles away, and while her and I rekindled an old friendship, we also became friends with the young couple.
Eventually more people came…into our city and into our lives.
And something very beautiful happened.
Before long, we found ourselves surrounded by an unlikely band of believers. We discovered kinship in a gaggle of struggling musicians, recovering alcoholics, misplaced dreamers, and searching lovers.
Many of us should not have found each other, much less become friends. Like the girl that spent the night at a male friend’s house and then came with him to our bonfire the following day. Their romance ended about as quickly as it started, but we had made a connection that remains strong to this day.
We found each other. Despite the walls and judgements and stereotypes that typically divide us. Blacks and whites, gays and straights, christians and atheists, republicans and democrats, rednecks and yuppies. It did not matter.
We found each other at downtown diners and backyard barbecues. Morning-after breakfasts and late night bonfires. We found each other through the haze of fake cubans and the honesty of real pain.
And in finding each other, we found community.
The kind of community that is driven by the simple desire to know and to be known. To love and to be loved, even in the darkest places of our souls. And the kind that doesn’t leave when it gets ugly.
It was this community that stayed with us through some of the most disastrous and disfunctional years of our marriage. They hung with me when I discovered that my husband was not the “perfect” mennonite boy I had married, and that there had been other women. They loved on him in ways that I couldn’t, when he hated himself so deeply. They stayed with both of us, even when it seemed we could not possibly stay together.
No matter how ugly and messy it got, they did not leave!
They came back and called back to see how I was doing. They left groceries at my doorstep and invited me over for tea on their porches. They asked us both to come to their dinner tables and they were just as happy to come to ours.
It was this community that ultimately brought me out of the depths of disappointment and helped me find my purpose again. It saved my life at a time when I did not think it was worth saving.
And believe it or not, it’s still there!
It may not look exactly the same as it did in those years, but it’s still right there under the surface of my busy life. Waiting for me to seek it out. To stop a little longer at a friend’s house. To help a stranger. To visit my sick neighbor. To abandon my inaccessible pride and become real with another.
Actually, I believe it is there for all of us.
Whenever we lay down our preconceived notions and silly hangups about each other. Whenever our longing for companionship becomes greater than our need for status. And when our desire for healing becomes greater than our need to impress.
Community happens when we let go of our false images and silly fisods and let ourselves be known for who we really are.
And so. I dare you to come out of your comfort zone and talk to someone that’s not your type. I encourage you to venture outside the lines of isolation and listen to the lonely. Even if they’re gay. Or liberal. Or weird. Get out of your broken shell and knock on someone else’s.
Remember that the most life-giving friendship could be on the other side of your judgement. The most miraculous healing could be on the other side of your inconvenience.
It could be that like me, you find the most lasting connections in the uncommon ground of suffering. You might discover the most fulfilling relationships in the midst of your deepest pain.