The Gifts of Being Sick in Community

by Audrée Morin

I was freshly arrived at Twin Oaks, the community I had been hearing so much about for the last seven months. I had heard about it for the first time at Ecovillage Pathways, in June. Even though I felt like I had just left Quebec City and just started my north-east winter communities tour, I had already been on the road for two months, I had already visited more or less 12 communities, and I could smell the end of the tour coming.

The tour was finishing at its most exciting part: this was the 52-year-old community, home to 100 people who don’t need to work outside of the community, the one that founded the Federation for Egalitarian Communities, a farm in the woods where every hour of work is worth the same, the community that sprouted more or less 5 other communities in the area creating a buzzing communities hub.

I felt soooo excited to jump into my 3-week visitor program.  I would have multiple hours of explanations about how this successful long-lasting community functions (which might sound boring to some people, but for the community nerd that I am, it sounded exciting). I was ready to take part in the life of this community at 110% intensity; I was eager to work a diversity of jobs, to give back to this generous community that was welcoming me, housing and feeding me for almost nothing, and teaching me about my passion. I was all in to learn as much as possible and to get to know people.

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Between the trees is the hammock where I rested when I was sick

But… my body had a different story in mind. The week before, I had started getting a cold.  I tried to take care of myself with a bunch of teas and decoctions that my herbalist and friends taught me, which typically works great….. if I do the one thing everyone knows is necessary to heal: rest (and drink a crazy amount of water). But with the same enthusiasm and eagerness I had for Twin Oaks, I had decided to go to the song circle in Woodfolk house of song, which I had also been hearing about for months and was one of my highlight bucket list items in this region.

Big mistake! The cold mischievously turned into a bad sinus infection, which pretty much started the day I arrived at Twin Oaks. I was able to be in denial for the first days, napping for 10 minutes in between my work shifts and thinking that would be enough rest, but by the fourth day, I realized that I was probably not going to heal without complete days of rest and antibiotics. I had sinus infections every winter for the last 5 years: I knew what to expect.

I knew I would have to go to a doctor and pay for it because I had decided not to get medical insurance. I knew I would have to get those darn antibiotics and destroy my poor microbiome that I had put so much efforts (and money) in reconstructing for the last 6 months. And, the worst part…… I knew I would have to not work for 2 days.

Normally, when I have to take days off from work to heal, I feel lucky and I am happy to take them. But here, work is so meaningful: I wanted to contribute and learn. Just imagining missing my work shifts was giving me anxiety. “I won’t get to know anyone and I will be alone for the rest of my visitor period!” “People will see me as a lazy parasite who eats their food, sleeps in their bed and doesn’t work!” “I wanted to get practice gardening and making hammocks and doing tofu and working with orchards and bees! I will learn nothing if I sleep all day and don’t meet people!” and so on…

I ended up crying in multiple people’s arms that morning, as they asked me how I was doing, and I couldn’t help but answer: “afraid and discouraged”. All of them reminded me of a wonderful feature of the culture here: Twin Oaks strongly considers that when you are sick, your job is to take care of yourself and rest. Resting counts as labor (the community is based on a labor credits system), and it is what you are expected to do. The visitor guide mentions: “Please don’t try to work when you’re sick: it sends the wrong message about you (…)”.  

As obvious as it is when others are sick and I advise them to take a day of rest, this was the hardest thing to do for myself.  It took me a couple of hugs, until I finally accepted the reality, wrote a little paper note on the “today board” asking to cover my tofu shift, and started the process of finding how to see a doctor without spending a fortune.

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The Today Board

I went to the “shtetl” (everything has cool-hard-to-spell names here), a space with four couches in a communal building, and asked around if someone knew where to go. It was so heartwarming to hear half a dozen people brainstorm together, with everyone coming up with ideas: one person thinking of calling my doctor in Canada and asking to fax a prescription to the pharmacy, others trying to orient me to the United States medical system, and remembering places where people without insurance can go (the community provides full coverage health insurance).

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The Shtetl

Someone thought of a Dr. Shwartz but didn’t know if he was retired. Someone remembered that they had an appointment with him five months ago, and a third person managed to find his number on the health board. Dr. Shwartz had lived 10 years at Twin Oaks, and was known to be a high integrity doctor who doesn’t order useless tests.

I walked over to a place with a landline and made two phone calls: while my doctor in Canada said it was out of question to fax a prescription without a consultation, Dr. Shwartz agreed to see me the same day, if I was able to get there in 20 minutes. I was saved!

The internet was not working, and I didn’t know how to get there, but a nice Twin Oaker gave me the directions. I felt unsure driving to a place without having seen a map of the road on Internet first, but I did it anyway, and it worked. I found the place, without problems.

I got my appointment, the nurse was the nicest nurse I had ever seen, and the first thing the doctor told me, before talking about antibiotics, is that I should take licorice root to support my adrenal glands for my low blood pressure. He answered my concerns about my asthma medication with research-based explanations, and prescribed me another kind because, he told me, with the first kind, more people die.

Of course, I got my antibiotic prescription. The price ended up being really low (68$ for those who like quantification), and he gifted me a whole bottle of licorice root pills! What doctor gives free and natural remedies to his patients? One who has lived in community for ten years apparently.

Back at Twin Oaks, another resident offered me the use of his south facing room because he would be away for three days. His room was in a newer building with better air quality than the visitors’ building. Thanks to him and his humidifier, my lungs had a little break.

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Kaweah, the house where I stayed when I was sick

I ended up spending two days resting on his couch. No one made me feel guilty about not working, and people took news of my health when I went to lunch and dinner. I didn’t have to worry about cooking, because it is labor creditable, which means that all meals are communal (but never mandatory) and taken care of by the team assigned to cook. We just need to show up on time, and choose between the diverse options of delicious food, for the most part grown by the community itself.

With that setup, I felt safe, supported and taken care of, almost like when I was a kid and I had my mom to take care of me. It felt so good to know that I was not left alone to take care of myself.

Being sick takes time, with all the teas, tinctures, pills, inhalers and sinus rinsing, and it also requires resting, so having meals and dishes taken care of and feeling the support of the community really made a difference. I have healed now, and I don’t wish to be sick again, but I am grateful for this vulnerability episode that allowed me to experience a new unexpected manifestation of the power of community.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gifts of Being Sick in Community

Communities Conference Workshops

Here is the workshop and partial presentation schedule for the upcoming Twin Oaks Communities Conference.  The below links are to blog posts on these elements.  There is a posted full program (with short descriptions for every workshop are in the newly published program).  

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Cambia lunch

Saturday September 1st

9:30 to noon

1:30 to 3 PM

4 to 5:30 PM

Sunday September 2

9:30 to 11

There is still time to register for this amazing event.  Twin Oaks Community is hosting this event in central Virginia Aug 31st thru Sept 2.  There is also great Labor Day (Sept 3) program at Cambia Community, less than one mile from the Twin Oaks Conference site.

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Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary – Circa 2017
Communities Conference Workshops

Seeking and Finding Community

By Courtney Dowe

 

( An excerpt from the forthcoming novel “ OVERTHROW YOURSELF”)

 

When I decided to leave Washington DC to check out an intentional community in Puerto Rico, it wasn’t because I knew that it would “work out”. The idea that something has to last forever in order to “work out” has never really made much sense to me. By that rationale, any human being that has come to the end of their life should be considered a failure. If I live to be 90 years old, and someone standing next to my death bed says “ I guess it just didn’t work out.” I hope I still have enough strength left to flip them the bird.

Anyway, I went to Puerto Rico because I knew that I was not prepared to sacrifice all of my dreams, for the sake of motherhood. I knew that I had to at least try to build a life that I could love. I knew that I needed to see what was possible, and most importantly, I knew that I couldn’t live in fear just because I had a child. If anything, I needed to be more willing to take a leap. For the first time, there was more than just my own happiness at stake. There was a new life that was counting on me to take a huge running leap toward personal liberation and to land as far as I could.

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I had been talking with a land-based community on the island for some time before I decided to actually go there. I sent them an email about a year before I heard anything back. Once we did connect, I had regular phone conversations with the man who started the project for about 6 months before I finally decided to get on a plane with my child and fly into the unknown. We were headed for the rainforest. The only rainforest in the U.S. National Park system to be exact.

When I remember the rainforest, I think of the sounds. A vast biological jam-session that never stops. I remember frog-like creatures hanging out in the ice-maker and tiny lizards crawling across the living room floor. One night a baby scorpion even decided to stop by. Gratefully, we found it before it found us.

The community was basically just a small family. Two parents and their child. They were very kind but they were under a lot of financial strain and I think that heavily impacted the way they engaged with us. We stayed with them  for about 2 weeks and then I realized that we were not going to be able to get past the stress of survival enough to be honest with each other, enough to be able to work together, enough to see ourselves as being on the same side and in the same fight. Without getting too much into the details, I decided to leave.

Soon thereafter, a friend of mine living in community in the DC area reached out to me unexpectedly. I tried to join the community where he lived a couple of years before, it didn’t work out but we remained friends. He told me that there was a new income sharing community that was forming in Washington DC.  I reached out to them immediately, but I had to let them know that I was not in a position to fully engage right away.  I was trying to get my bearings and I wasn’t going to be able to focus on getting to know them from a distance until I figured out some basics for my everyday life.  They understood and so when I finally did settle into my own place, I decided to reach out to them again. We started talking on a regular basis. They had Tuesday night meetings and I would often attend via satellite through some kind of chat program. The meetings were unexpectedly encouraging. The people in the group were interesting,and they not only tolerated my direct style of communication, they actually seemed to like it. I figured I should continue to give it a shot.

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I will ruin the suspense for you here because wondering whether or not I would become a member of the DC commune was intensely emotional for me. Everyone was supportive and kind for the most part, it just took me back to my days as a child in foster care, when I wondered whether or not I would ever find a family and a sense of belonging. As I write this I’m laying here in my bedroom, in the house in Washington DC that I share with five adults and four children. My son and I are full members of Compersia Community.

Every day’s an adventure, even without leaving the house. I believe that we are all mirrors for each other, not just in the commune, but with people in general. As we reflect and as we are reflected, we sometimes see more of ourselves than we expect or want to see. Anyone who’s ever seen themselves, first thing in the morning understands that a mirror is not always your friend, but it can always tell you something.

The love between members of any community is hard to describe. There are days when I stand back and marvel at the miracle of human connection. But, to clarify, and to make sure that I’m not misrepresenting reality, for anyone who has ever thought about joining an intentional community, on a lot of levels it sucks. There are a ton of things that are really hard about living with even one other adult, let alone 5 adults and 4 children. Every single day I have to push through something in order to be in harmony with the larger environment. I have to grow. I have to stretch a little more beyond myself, in order to rise to the occasion at hand. That said, there is still something deliciously ordinary about having dinner around the table, putting out the plates and forks, and listening to the sound of someone practicing an instrument while the kids run around doing whatever it is that kids do. Someone is coming home from work and someone is just leaving. Someone is feeling deeply connected and someone else is feeling terribly alone, and all of it, every single sweet sacred part of it, is love.

Courtney Dowe is a member of Compersia Community in Washington, DC.

Seeking and Finding Community