Monday, April 4, 2011

Making the Leap, Part 2 — Elizabeth Garber

First I sold my beautiful home and left my settled life to begin a gypsy existence with my new roommate Coleen, who had also sold her house, to live in winter sublets and summer house-sits for a year or two. Why? Because we are holding a vision of moving into Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage. My twenty year old daughter says, “But Mom, you’re not being rational. You’re living like a twenty year old!” I laugh. I’m traveling lighter, discovering how few clothes, books, and things I need to feel at home.

As we get closer to breaking ground, I’ve been happily envisioning my future home, an adorable 500 square foot energy efficient home with a loft in a triplex. I made decisions on cabinet style, paint colors, and started designing a garden around the house. I thought I knew where I was going. A few weeks ago, a friend asked, “So is it all firmed up which is your new house?” I paused and shook my head, “This journey is filled with surprises, shifts and turns in the path. Who knows what might still change?”

Being part of Belfast Cohousing for over two years has changed me. As we envision, plan, and work together to move our vision into reality, it has become a spiritual exercise practice. I notice how it stretches my mind, loosens my expectations, strengthens my inner balance, and deepens my awareness of what is better for our community instead of thinking of myself first. I watch these shifts happen in my companions as we resolve dilemmas. But still I thought, once I moved into cohousing, at the end of the day I’d be going home to my cozy house. Until Coleen’s brilliant idea pushed me to think again.

At cohousing conferences, they say that cohousing's next step toward becoming more affordable is to have shared households. My son lives in a cooperative house in the Boston area, and with visionary zeal tells me that everyone should be house sharing. Coleen made that leap two months ago when she joined households with John and Denise and their two children, Audrey and Luke. They will be buying a three bedroom house and building on a two room suite on the ground floor for ‘Auntie’ Coleen. This will make it affordable for all of them. I listened to them making plans and wondered. “It’s been great having a roommate; do I really want to go back to living alone?” Then I’d talk myself back into it. I’m an introvert. I need quiet time alone. I need my own house for when my kids come home to visit (even though it’s only about 5 days a year) and someday there will be grandchildren.

Then two weeks ago, Coleen got off the phone from talking to a good friend, one of our Exploring Members. A thoughtful dad with a young daughter, he had a temporary obstacle that prevented him from being able to buy into Cohousing as we move toward breaking ground this Spring. He was devastated, because as an older dad he wanted to raise his daughter with all of us. Coleen looked at me and asked, “How about you buy a house with Stephen?” Without a pause, and with a strange clarity that felt like this was a path my life was meant to take, I said, “I could do that.” The rest has been effortless. Two weeks later, with financial paperwork done and house decisions made, we are proceeding as housemates buying a house in common.

But what happened in that split second, before I spoke? I didn’t think: why would I share a house with someone I hardly know? Why would I start living with a child after raising two children? I didn’t. It was a moment of surrender. I trusted a wisdom greater than my own thinking and planning, to follow a path that appeared. Stephen and I shared a commitment to living in this community, which gave us a common ground of connection. I trusted that was enough of a foundation to start. Of course, my daughter was dismayed! “This is not rational, mom! ” But I said, “Miriam, trust me on this one!”

Now, instead of planning a little nest for one, we are getting to know each other as we talk about cabinets he wants to build for “our” house. Now I’ll have an observant introvert to discuss things with when I come home. I’ll listen to him play his hand-built harpsichord with his daughter, who shares my name, while I cook dinner with produce from our community gardens. Greater richness is coming to my life than I ever imagined, through trust and faith in this amazing crazy Cohousing journey.

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