Sometimes I want to join a monastic community. Not because I want to swear off marriage and children. Not because I feel the need to be part of such a community to serve God. Not because I think communities are safe or easy places to live. No, I want to join a monastic community because I long for committed, open, sharing relationships. I’m tired of convenience. I’m tired of eating alone. I’m tired of being the sole possessor of everything I own. I’m tired of my car, my books, my food, my computer, my room, my life.
In college I had a few friends with whom I lived in community. There were many others in my dorm, many others who were close friends. But with these few I shared everything. I do not mean I spilled my guts, told all my secrets, announced all my dreams. I mean we shared books, rice, silverware, canned fruit, scarves, salt . . . I mean I could walk into their room at any time, whether or not they were there, sit on their couch, make tea, lend another friend their spoon. I mean that when one of us had plenty to eat, we all had plenty. When one of us had a tomato and another a cup of rice, we ate our meager feast together. No one kept accounts. No one kept lists of things borrowed. We cooked together, ate together, read books aloud together, sang together. When we moved in separate directions we divided the stuff—not by who had purchased it, not equally, but by who most needed what.
These days I share a divided house. My milk carton is marked with a large HW. I own clothing that only I wear. I use someone else’s cooking utensils, knowing that they belong exclusively to that person. Someone else uses my plates, knowing that those belong to me. I buy Christmas decorations and divide the cost to the penny. It’s been months since someone borrowed my car. It’s been longer since I’ve borrowed someone else’s. Only at church potlucks do I share food and share fellowship over food.
I don’t want to live this way. I want to share. I want to eat common meals. I want to know that I belong in a place, that others belong in the same place, and that none of us are leaving without a really good reason. I want to wash someone else’s laundry; I want someone else to wash my dishes. Or I want to wash someone’s dishes and have someone else wash my laundry. More honestly, I want us to wash our dishes and our laundry. I want an our-life.
Yet, looking at my priorities and habits honestly, I see that I perpetuate the my-life I despise. Sharing was easier when I was poor. There was less to let go of, less to lose. Sharing a car (though it be a well-used 2001 model), feels riskier than sharing my last zucchini. And rearranging my schedule to share meals is far more complicated now that I own a car. It’s easier to grab a bite on my way out the door. It’s easier to live a separate life. Easier. But much less fulfilling.
How do I step out of this individualized life? How do I eat with others, share belongings and join in a common song? How do I let go of the need to possess, to account, to receive equal amounts, to pay only my portion? How do I do that as a single woman in a culture that expects me to make a life for myself? In a culture that says that only married couples hold all things in common with one another [maybe], that only families eat together regularly [maybe], how do I, a single woman, find community? How do I live, not as a single woman, but as a celibate woman in community?