Part of a series on community and solitude.
I need to think about where I want to live.
There are two desires in me. One is for solitude, the other for community. These are not necessarily conflicting desires. I can have solitude and community, if I’d like. I need to set these as the ends of a spectrum and decide where I want to place myself between them.
Perhaps a start would be admitting how much I want solitude. This is a part of my character that I haven’t thought about for several years. But it goes deep. When I dream of a perfect life I often see the wilderness, and a self-sufficient situation. I imagine quiet unbroken except for the sounds of family and the occasional guest. Somewhat inexplicably, farming and writing are my pursuits in this particular dream. I’ve never seriously followed either of those paths. I don’t know if I would enjoy them so completely when idea becomes reality.
In my dream, a house stands on the side of a hill in the sun, miles from anything. In the yard are gardens and goats, chickens and perhaps a little cow. I sit in the sun looking out at my little kingdom. Or I’m out in the garden, or herding the goats from one tiny field to another.
And of course, when I say solitude, when I suggest that I am alone, I really mean that myself and my family are alone. And every once in a while a guest or three shows up at the door, perhaps in the evening when light is streaming from the windows of this little house. We share a meal and a song in quiet solitude. There is no intrusion that is not invited.
Okay, gag, the sentimentality is choking some of my more pragmatic readers. My hermit vision may be practical in some ways — for instance, I have placed a heavy emphasis on sustainability and self-sufficiency in my dream — but it is selfish and antisocial nonetheless.
I’m not above being selfish. And of course I’m selfish accidentally all the time. What I mean is: I’m not above being selfish intentionally. As long as I have some time to think it out and understand as many of the consequences as I can. A bit of selfishness on my part is not going to mean the end of world.
But my preference is to be Not Selfish. My preference is to be Good. And it seems clear that the other end of this spectrum, the Community end, is the Better end from the point of view of the human species, the life on this planet, the universe.
I have another dream. Perhaps this one is less directly appealing, perhaps it is less primal, but it is a dream nonetheless and I can easily yearn for it if I turn my mind towards it.
In this dream I live in a small house near the center of a small town. I am a short walk from all my needs, so my garden is smaller. I am a short walk from immersion in a thriving, vibrant community. There are people here, within walking distance, who are scientists, artists, tradesfolk, people who make a difference and people who are heavily invested in this small community. I teach here, and I am steadily, strongly, daily involved in the shaping and guidance of the next generation’s people; not just my own children, but all those of the community, and by example, the world. This is a dream in which I sit in a cafe in the morning and have conversations there with people in my field or outside it — conversations about collaborations or conversations to broaden my viewpoint. This is a dream filled with buzz and activity, and while much of it is uninvited, most of it is welcome.
Between these dreams, somewhere, is a little house on a hill, with gardens and goats, perfectly located just a short walk from the center of town and the thriving community, the schools and libraries and parks. It’s not inconceivable, especially around here, to find such a perfect little place. Come looking for me in a few years, and that’s where you’ll find me, in all likelihood.
But the solitary extreme still calls to me, powerfully. It says: Just think of it — to go weeks, months at a time, without hearing a sound but the call of the wind, the soft movements and noises of the animals, the rustle of the grass and the earth underfoot, the quiet clinking of the dishes in the sink by the window in the sunlight.
To be continued…