In Company

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time alone (well, technically, with our little shelter pup, who is spunky and hilarious and excellent company) at home, reading, writing, and not-working-on-the-clutter as much as I or my dear spouse might have hoped.

I like to think that I am restoring my quiet, working on the writing I have too long neglected in my life, rebuilding inner resources in ways I would be hard put to define, and anyway, my closest friends are mostly far away, busy with work, or investing in their own demanding artisanal creative processes.

Yet, I have simultaneously been exploring new ways of being in company with others that I find refreshing, productive in multiple ways, and enlightening in still others.

I am a huge, lifelong proponent of playing board games (ever since playing sprawling outdoor neighborhood games of Hide and Seek, Kick the Can, Starlight-Moonlight began to seem embarrassing and inappropriate for developing pre-teen girls, a tragic change that bears exploring another time). I don’t mean Scrabble, or the many, complicated new role-playing or nation-building games that a beloved relative wants to teach me, painstakingly and at great, effortful length. I mean simpler, more social games—Checkers, Boggle, Yahtzee, Casino, Hearts, Skip-Bo, Taboo, Balderdash, Connect Four, Password, Monopoly, Pop-a-matic Trouble (both Mean and Nice), to name only a few of our many family favorites—games that allow for some conversation, don’t demand too much effort or competition, and don’t make this word-person feel like a failure at something I supposedly should be good at (Scrabble).

file0002098961681The games I endorse offer chances to be in company and to get to know people, share experiences with them, in an indirect fashion.

But, still, there is only so much time for fun and games.

In recent years, my volunteer and social activities have taken on some of the same delightful spending-time-together-without- having-to-be-in-deep-conversation-or-intense-personal-interaction qualities I have long attributed to and loved about playing board games.

The newest of these is cleaning our communal Poplar Grove Schoolhouse in company with my sister Women-Writers-for-a-Change in Bloomington. A dear older friend, an only child, was delighted to marry into a large family of siblings and in-laws, and has loved taking on group projects and tasks with her now-sisters for many years; I think of this as much like that. We gather and divvy up a flexible set of chores, working around the accreted. treasured, and significant furnishings, large and small, communally contributed to this community, making it an even more pleasant and valued home base for shared events and efforts. But a tidier home is only part of the story. We are a wildly varied group of women, in origins, ages, interests, communication styles and even eagerness to communicate, you name it. I love this shared cleaning, perhaps most of all with the women the very most different from myself, working steadily in companionable mostly-silence, sharing the most onorous tasks as well as the most enjoyable. I leave feeling filled with a sense of companionship, humble accomplishment, and an essential, if not Highly Significant, contribution to a community we all love and value, and have built together. Our motto of “Presume Good Will” seems to me highly embodied and energized in this endeavor.

Another shared activity that allows for coming to know and care for individuals in a less-direct manner, in this case while undertaking a less tangible goal, is brought to life in the Poetry Detectives gathering on Second Saturdays, again at the Schoolhouse. This weekend, four of us appeared to discuss four very different poems, from four very different perspectives, but some months you might meet as many as twelve detectives, even some men, detecting significance and pleasure in an array of poetry some of us are encountering for the first time, some after many thoughtful readings. All observations (for this is largely the extent of what we claim to do) are welcomed and respected equally, entertained, expanded upon, but above all, enjoyed. I could hardly tell you anything “personal,” in a conventional sense, about my fellow word-and-meaning sleuths, but at another, very different level, I feel I have come to know them deeply and meaningfully. Come join us!

My last regular, communal commitment is working Setup Shift for Bloomington’s Interfaith Winter Shelter, now in its 6th season shared among area faith communities, including my own. From the beginning, I have worked setup with my minor daughters, who can work only this early no-contact-with-guests shift due to the Low Barrier nature of the shelter. Tonight, our usual Monday night crew was AWESOME, in and out in just over half an hour, a well-oiled machine. We lay out, most nights, 62 doubled mat sets with cased pillow, blanket, sheet, and a magnetically-numbered folding chair for a headboard/bedside table, in three different rooms for men/women/overflow; thread light-blocking blinds into exit doors; erect a dining area for soup, crackers, snacks, and decaf with salt and peppers on clean tabletops; place signage for restrooms and smoke schedules; set out breath mints, earplugs, and feminine hygiene products; inset tens of plastic bags to hold guests’ belongings for the night; cover congregational postings to protect the privacy of congregants/groups that meet in the building; then bid one another a cheery goodnight, walking anyone unaccompanied to their car. I leave, again, feeling that I have shared something precious with these individuals I have come to know through shared work and the values and beliefs in what really matters that this work signifies. I know their first names, but little else of any particular nature about them.

What ways do you like to “be in company” with others? What communities you participate in are precious to you? How can more of us find ways to bridge the seemingly insurmountable divides of ideology, politics, religion, race, class, age, and more, that Ruth Bader Ginsberg so eloquently addressed in her tribute to Supreme Court Justice and Best Opera Buddy Antonin Scalia?

Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse

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