On Thursday, February 11th, 2016, I got to have a Gero-Punk play-date at The Treehouse!
You see, I embarked upon a field trip to Easthampton, Massachusetts, for a day of collaborative inquiry with members of The Treehouse Community, a vibrant intentional community created to enact a powerful model of serving children and families in the foster care system:
Established in 2006, the Treehouse Community is a geographically contained, multigenerational, planned neighborhood where adoptive families, their children and elders invest in one another’s lives. It is a village where children find not just parents and a home, but also grandparents, playmates and an entire neighborhood designed to help them grow up in a secure and nurturing environment.
My friend Libby Hinze is responsible for cooking up the field trip. Libby is working on her MSW at Smith College, specializing in Gerontological social work. Her thesis project focuses on the role of older adults in intentional intergenerational communities such as The Treehouse Community in MA (or at the wonderful Bridge Meadows, in Portland, OR). Libby is interesting in understanding more deeply the ongoing meaning-making processes engaged in by elders living in such communities, why they decided to move to and be a part of the community, how they construct their roles and responsibilities in the community, and what gives them a sense of vitality.
To explore these and other questions, Libby and I co-facilitated an elder-lead symposium, What a meaningful life! We gathered with the elders of the community for most of the day. In the essay below, Libby shares what the experience was like from her perspective.
What a Successful Play-date!
What a successful play-date! You never know how play-dates will go, so when it turns out to be so good it seems vitally important to celebrate the experience of playing with friends old and new. The fun I had with this gaggle of gals happened but a few weeks ago (my apologies for not sharing my joy earlier; these kind of delays are a common theme in my graduate school student life). I enticed my friend and colleague Jenny Sasser to come all the way from Oregon to play with us, although I am not sure it is actually that difficult to entice “Dr. Sassy” to come play with a group of women (who prefer to be called the “Hot Mamas”!) who live in an intentional intergenerational community called The Treehouse.
Ever since our play-date on Thursday, February 11th, 2016, my life has been one big mad dash from this duty to that, and the sweetness and calm of that day now seem to be months ago rather than just days. Since our visit on that cold windy February day I have thought a lot about these women but it wasn’t until last night when I woke up in the middle of an impressive thunder storm, and after a somewhat reoccurring dream, that I was able to formulate some deeper thinking about the day’s events.
I will begin with last night’s dream. There is something about last night that holds my attention. The night was turbulent at best. This is typically the coldest time of year here in New England but the weather quickly changed yesterday and we went from a snowy low 30’s to a mild and wild high 50’s. The snowy day turned in to a typical NW down pour. The thunder and lightning began around midnight. Angry, and demanding my attention, the thunder rolled over head. I sat up in bed, the air was filled with electrical charm and I could taste the energy on my tongue. I jostled about for a bit trying to re-position myself in a comfortable way. I don’t know how long it took but eventually I fell back asleep and into a dream. The dream was as turbulent as the night air:
I was walking in a heavy downpour trying to get back to The Treehouse. I had errands to run but the car would not start. I had to feed the kids but the store was closed. I had my books and my backpack but they were getting wet, so wet. I could see dry land across the road. I could see the house up in the tree. People were waving and hollering for me to hurry, it would be dark soon. The water on the road was rising quickly. I began to cross and I could see a car coming. I feared I would not get across. I feared the car would hit me or that I would drown. I made it across, I climbed the stairs to The Treehouse and made my way inside. There was nobody there. I reached in my pocket to grab my phone but it was too wet and wouldn’t work. I wondered where everybody went. I was alone, I could not call out. I was not afraid. I knew they would come back. I knew I was safe. I quietly began to do my work.
This dream reminds me of my day at The Treehouse because the women who showed up to share with us were fearless and passionate about their purposes in life. The paths they choose to journey down in their lives were ones that they were so passionate about that the fear of getting to where they wanted to be was perhaps only momentary and ultimately gave way to a greater outcome. Whether that greater outcome was for the community, the environment, a political stance, or themselves, a greater good it was.
So there they were, here we are: together and alone. Independent, dependent upon and interdependent in this journey of life.
Our mission for the day was to join together with these amazing women and talk about their lives, and who or what inspires them. We explored juicy ideas like meaning making; creating a culture of trust and wisdom; being part of an intergenerational community and the pains of community members who have been lost. We came together. And when we dispersed what I walked away with was a deeper understanding of what it means to be in community with one another and with our own selves.
Some of the characters who played a pivotal role in that day were a minister who facilitates end-of-life discussion groups, a member of The Young at Heart choir, and a woman who walked across the country in solidarity for peace with Mildred Norman, the Peace Pilgrim. There was the grandmother who had been grand-mothering her community all her life. A woman who favored working with children with disabilities and a woman who was one of the pioneers of the Gerontological movement. She was instrumental in creating some of the first community-based programs on aging. These women are busy and it seems to me all their activity did not start after retirement but has been a way of life and a source of energy for them throughout their lives. Watching them certainly got me thinking about my own life and how my own busyness has evolved and transformed over my years.
It all makes me wonder: What is this busyness everyone is up to? Why are we keeping ourselves so busy? In this moment, while I can honestly say my busyness is a response to the external requirements of graduate school, it is I who signed up for this rigorous program knowing that it would be busy and the work would be intense. I think my sense of overwhelming busyness also has to do with how I choose to do the work and how I choose to show up in my life. We did not talk about this “how do you show up in your life” per se with the group, but each participant certainly demonstrated how they choose to participate in the activities that bring meaning to their lives. I mean — here they were spending their afternoon with us, total strangers, and diving in to what makes sense in this moment, and how to be pioneers of new and inventive ways to age in better ways. They didn’t just show up, these women showed up with intention and spirit, inquisitiveness and heart. It seems to make sense to me that this is how they always choose to do the work they do and their busyness has less to do with being busy and more to do with the intention and heart they put in to doing what they love.
One of my favorite authors, Parker Palmer, wrote, “Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other. It is not about the presence of other people-it is about being fully open to the reality of relationship, whether or not we are alone.” Parker reminds me that maybe, just maybe, all this busyness is not about being busy at all. Maybe it is about the richness of our lives, living with others and with ourselves. Maybe it is this richness that brings us courage, wisdom, and faith. It is clear to me that these long-lived souls whom I met at The Treehouse live their lives with intention and depth.
Maybe it is not so much about how much we do, but the intention with which we do what we are doing.
Libby Hinze is a master’s student in Social Work at Smith College in Northampton, MA. Born and raised in Portland, Or. She has her BA in Human Studies from Marylhurst University and is a certified gerontologist. Currently she is doing her second year internship at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA. in the Inpatient Palliative Care and Geriatric Department. She is the single mother of two fabulous young women and the auntie and great-auntie to many more. Her goal after graduation is to return to Oregon and host a gathering where her street is lined right down the middle with a long table where there is room for all to gather and enough food for all.
Palmer, P. (2004). A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided life. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons Inc.