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.
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.
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.