I know. I haven’t posted in months. Can I issue a breathless apology and be forgiven? Not that anyone was holding their breath, waiting for me to post.
A short update, and then on to the topic that compelled me to write. What has the past few months been about for me? Let’s see: on the whole, mostly parenting Lily, working very hard on behalf of Grow Food Northampton, getting very little sleep. Maybe in another post I will expound a bit on some of that.
Back to the topic at hand.
Where is home? Where do I belong? Which ground belongs under my feet? Who are my “peeps,” as my friend Lilly recently asked me? These are lifelong questions for me, as they are for so many. I was reminded of these questions full-force when I went to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst today for the first Sunday service of the year (UUSA doesn’t have services during the summer).
For starters, I was ambivalent about making the trek out to Amherst at all today. What is my relationship to Amherst, now and into the future? That has been a big question on my mind, since Tom and I had been thinking for quite a while that it would make sense for us to move to Amherst since he works at UMass. Our house at Rocky Hill is still for sale, and we are still planning to move. However, over the summer, I realized a few things: I am really, really attached to Northampton. And my strenuous efforts on behalf of Grow Food Northampton have only strengthened that attachment. Also, from a practical standpoint, property taxes are considerably lower, and there are some housing options that cost less in downtown Northampton and downtown Florence than in downtown Amherst (we are still committed to living close to a downtown area). As a result, we’ve decided that if and when our house sells, we will relocate within Northampton.
This doesn’t erase, however, the efforts I made all of last year to spend time in Amherst and start creating a sense of community there. The UUSA is a wonderful place. Lily and I have also spent a lot of time at the Amherst Family Center and in the MotherWoman group that meets there on Wednesdays during the school year. I used to work in Amherst. Tom works in Amherst. There are people I care a lot about in Amherst and the surrounding area. Here in the Pioneer Valley, we talk about which side of the river (that would be the beautiful Connecticut River) one lives on or works on or spends the majority of one’s time on. Which side of the river is my side? I wish I could say, it doesn’t matter, Amherst and Northampton are close enough to each other, but the truth is that currently, all of the transport options have serious downsides, and time is precious.
The question Where is home? also raises the continuing sadness and ache over deciding to leave Rocky Hill, putting our house on the market, only to have it still on the market over a year later. It has been hard to be in limbo for this long. It has been hard not to know when our house might sell, or if it will sell at all before some calamitous event in the economy occurs. It has been hard to lower our asking price several times and still have no success. It has been hard to have cohousing neighbors come up to me again and again and again and again, asking, “So, is anything happening with your house?” Some neighbors, that’s all they ask. Some neighbors have expressed sadness about our leaving and say they hope we’ll decide to stay. Some neighbors give off waves of anger, suspicion. One new neighbor said to me, “I don’t want to get to know you because I know you’re leaving.” I found this incredibly disturbing; the only response I could muster was, “Well, it’s not as if we’d be moving very far away.” What am I supposed to make of such a statement? That people who live at Rocky Hill only associate with other Rocky Hillers? That people who live at Rocky Hill and then decide to leave will only break your heart and never want to have contact with you again? Huh? So even in my house, I am not at home, and I have not been at home for two years, since we decided we needed to move. This, the home that I had hoped I would live in for the rest of my life, and had worked mightily to achieve.
Where is my spiritual home? This is also an eternal question for me. I am a Unitarian Universalist, but I was not raised UU; I was raised a Jew. But even Judaism was never my spiritual home. My mother was born and raised in Bologna, Italy and was Catholic like everyone else she knew. She converted to Judaism in order to marry my father, but this was more a practical matter for her than a spiritual one. In any case, witnessing the lack of a warm welcome among Jews towards my mother the shiksa (no matter if she converted or not), did not exactly endear me to Judaism. I went through all the motions, the Hebrew school, the High Holidays, the Bat Mitzvah, and none of it made me feel like I really belonged. I felt like an outsider. It’s still a part of me, and I don’t repudiate it; there are aspects of Jewish faith and culture that I think are precious and beautiful. But do I belong? I don’t identify with being Catholic, despite the fact that my entire Italian extended family is Catholic (although I do feel a special reverence in the Gothic cathedrals that my grandfather Gigi so loved). And what about being UU? In so many ways, Unitarian Universalism seems like a spiritual haven for liberal religious misfits like me. I wholeheartedly believe in the UU principles. First Parish in Cambridge has an irreplaceable role in my heart: I met my beloved Tom there, I met so many of my dearest friends there, and it gave me hope in community and in my pursuit of truth and faith. But I am no longer near Cambridge. I become involved with the UU Society of Amherst while in a different phase of life, as a parent of a toddler and now very busy with Grow Food Northampton and other activities in an effort to bolster community and family resilience. When I went to First Parish, I was in the Young Adult Group (YAG) and had time to dive into various committees, workshops and my adored Covenant Group. Now I’m lucky if I can make it to a Sunday service. I did participate in Small Group Ministry through UUSA, and even facilitated the small group I was a part of, but came to the realization that I’m just too overwhelmed to continue, although I will miss the group very much.
I did make it to the Sunday Service this morning, though, and there was the water ingathering ritual. Everyone was very welcoming. We sang my favorite hymn, “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door.” I wept the entire time. It brought up every ounce of longing that I’ve tried to suppress and dampen all summer, the longing for belonging and connection and unconditional love. All I wanted was to crumple in a heap and cry. But I still couldn’t discern if I truly belonged there.
Who are my “peeps”? Geez, Lilly, why did you have to ask me such a thing? This question haunts me. The response I gave to Lilly (who is the president of Grow Food Northampton) is that she is one of my peeps, which is undoubtedly true. Yes, GFN folks are my peeps, for sure. Local food activists, small organic farmers, permaculture people (aka “permies”), Transitioners, climate change activists, peak oil activists, these are all my peeps. My family are my peeps. The Valley is my peeps. Communitarians are my peeps. Librarians are my peeps. Friends from First Parish are my peeps. Tom’s college friends (aka the UB crowd, as in Univ. of Buffalo) are my peeps.
But I think what Lilly was driving at was not just who do I identify with, not just who do I love or feel loved by. It’s more than that. It’s, who do I hang out with on a regular basis? Who do I count on at a moment’s notice? That’s the part that haunts me. Where are my peeps? Why are there no peeps in my living room? (Okay, Tom is here, definitely Peep Number One. But he is on his laptop and I am on my laptop, and this is what we do.)
I want to sink my roots deep. I have always wanted this, and it has always eluded me.