Remember the days when neighbors chatted over the backyard fence, and everybody in town knew everybody else? Well, no. I doubt most of us actually “remember” those days. But we’ve heard so much about this ideal—as much in stories and shows as from older generations—that we believe it’s the way things ought to be.
The reality is that most of us don’t effortlessly cross paths with our neighbors. I live in what used to be a small town; but I have a choice of a dozen grocery stores, three Wal-Marts, three Targets, and innumerable churches. And if I don’t like any of those options, I’ll drive to a more urban area—what’s 50 miles of highway? You know what, to heck with driving, I’ll just stay home and find what I need online.
How do we build community in a society where we don’t actually see our neighbors on a daily basis? Amy’s excellent post suggests a dozen ways to get to know your immediate, physical neighbors. It’s a handy list to keep around.
Meanwhile, we can also build community among those who live farther away, or even among those we haven’t actually met. I think of them as “micro-communities.” Here are a few micro-communities that I’ve cultivated over the years:
Homeschool groups. Homeschoolers know the world has changed—because we helped change it. We opted out of the central, systematic approach to education, which comes with its own compulsory community. So we know we need to make an effort to connect with others.
My area has several groups and co-ops. Many of us are part of two or three. No matter what group I’m part of, I make an effort to get to know the parents around me. Chances are, we’ll cross paths later, in some other micro-community.
If you’re looking for a support group in your area, visit hslda.org/orgs to get started. The more homeschoolers you know in your area, the better you can find the micro-community that’s your best fit.
Shared interests. A few years ago, several friends and I met quarterly for a “writers’ afternoon.” Including travel time, it was a time commitment of about five hours. Then over half the group moved, scattering across the country. Instead of giving up on the community, one member suggested we “meet” once a month via video chat. Turns out that it’s actually easier that way, despite representing five states and all of the time zones.
Whether you find a local group or join an online community based on your interests, this micro-community can give you support and refreshment as you explore your passions with others who share it.
Online groups. When I was a young adult, most of my closest friendships were with people who lived hundreds of miles away. We kept in touch by letter, email, and Instant Messenger (alas, R.I.P., Instant Messenger). Now as a not-so-young adult, I don’t even live near any family, much less those friends. Online messaging and Facebook groups allow me to “hang out” with people I otherwise wouldn’t see at all. I consider these friendships to be real, if less convenient when I need an emergency babysitter.
Childcare switch-off. Speaking of babysitters, this very micro-community was a lifesaver in my young-mom days. Two friends and I clubbed together every Friday morning. Two of us watched the kids (10 in all), while the third friend got two hours of alone time. We took turns, so for half the month we got to hang out and visit with a friend, and at least twice we got a morning off.
Dessert and games. This pared-down version of the traditional dinner invitation has served us well. We invite friends over after supper, usually about 7:00, for dessert and a board game or two. It’s low-pressure (just get the bathroom and living room clean) and doesn’t have to take up an entire evening. We manage it only every three months or so, so it’s not a regular obligation, either.
Annual get-togethers. If even once every three months is hard to fit in, go for once a year! Darren and I have hosted an All Saints’ Day Party for 15 years now. Guests bring food, and we set up a few game stations. Everyone spends the rest of the evening visiting, eating, or playing games. It’s a lot of work to get the house ready for 30–40 people, but on the other hand, it’s just once a year.
Even if your micro-communities don’t look like the mythical 1950s bridge club or bowling night, you can still enjoy the same benefits in today’s changed world.
What are some of the micro-communities that you cultivate and enjoy?
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis.