Can I Meditate My Way Out of Here?

Let’s imagine you are shopping for a new place to live. You want a walkable neighborhood, meaning that you can walk to a drug store, a grocery store, a bank, a library, a movie theater – the essentials of urban living. You find a neighborhood, find a dwelling place, the vibes seem OK. You move in. 

Your new place seems pretty good. It’s not ideal, but then few things are. You’re a stranger, but you soon discover that most of your neighbors moved here because they had friends or family already here. They ignore you. You join in some neighborhood activities, but in between organized events, no one calls, your doorbell doesn’t ring. Eventually, you offer up an open house for your nearest neighbors. People come! They mix with enthusiasm, they linger. But after they leave, your phone doesn’t ring; your doorbell doesn’t ring. Hmm.

As you sample the various public activities, you find a few that interest you.  You attend and join in the conversation. You begin to learn more about your neighbors. You learn that they are not exactly what they claim to be. They claim they are all about inclusion, that they seek out diversity, but the diversity they seek does not include the likes of you. What will you do now?

Will you pull up stakes and look for a different neighborhood? How far would you have to go to find one where your sort would be welcome? You could go back to your home town, but you’ve changed in ways that it hasn’t. You could move to Canada, but it’s changed, too, and now it’s worse than your new neighbors. You could find property in the country where you wouldn’t expect your doorbell to ring (but it did!), but you have health concerns that couldn’t be met there. 

Maybe the problem is you, not the neighborhood. Well, not maybe: it is. You actually are hoping for a neighborhood of adults, similar to the neighborhood of your childhood, where adults were curious to learn more about their neighbors without immediately sorting them into my kind and not my kind. I remember a remarkably inclusive neighborhood where my blue collar parents were invited to mix with the hoi poloi (they generally didn’t). Jews and gentiles mixed regularly. No, my neighborhood wasn’t racially mixed, but people had serious conversations about issues of the day including serious ones such as how to sort the town into two high schools in a way that didn’t create a ghetto school and a privileged school. 

I know a handful of adults, by which I mean people who are curious about what other people think. They want to learn why someone has an opinion that is at odds with their own. They admit that people with whom they disagree have some good points. Inclusion to them includes people with ideas that challenge them. If you are reading this, you are probably one of these people that I view as adults. Thank you for at least being curious if not actually open to my point of view. 

As for my dilemma about where to live, I don’t know what to do. This is a good place for my husband. If I followed my mom’s example and died before my husband, I’d want him to be here. But it’s not a good fit for me. Society in general is so thoroughly sorted today that there may not be a good fit for me anywhere. I’m not confident that I could find a place where I fit, and I probably couldn’t afford to move anyway. 

I have a few good role models here; people who likely share some of my views but just never share them publicly. I’m doing my meditations today on whether I need to give up, shut up, and join them. They have somehow found a way to be here without hoping to find any personal support here. Could I do that without descending into madness? I might have to. Wish me luck.

Your Neighbors Are Not Fine

A week ago, I was on my way home from an appointment with my psychologist. Yes, I need therapy. And, not your business. In any event, I took light rail to Westlake, then walked up the hill from there. I met a friend in Freeway Park, we chatted a bit, then I decided to be brave and ask her a question I rarely ask people. 

Her husband died last winter, but I’ve seen her out and about in our retirement community since then, and she looks “fine.” By this, I mean that she is dressed as smartly as ever, seems always to have a destination in mind, and simply looks as she always has. But frankly, I’m curious about how people deal with the death of a spouse, so I asked her how she is with life alone. Without hesitating, she said, “I hate it. I really hate it.” 

“Wow,” I said, “I’m glad I asked because you always look fine, but I don’t know how you could be.” “No,” she said, “I really miss him. I miss the things we used to do together. Everyday, I miss him. I don’t like this at all.” 

Not an hour later, I was leaving the laundry room on our floor and bumped into another friend. I say friend, but in neither case was this someone I would call on for help. Yet, we are friendly to each other, and we chat from time to time. Again, I asked this friend how she was. “I’m finally starting to feel more like myself again,” she said. The last time I’d seen her, it was near noon, and she’d just gotten dressed and left her apartment, still looking a bit disheveled. This time, she was brighter and told me she’d started taking an antidepressant. A closer friend than I had told her she really seemed depressed and needed to get help. Fortunately, she trusted this friend enough that she followed through and did find help. She said the pills were kicking in, and she was doing better.

Those two encounters made me wonder how many other people I pass in the halls or see in the dining room or lounge each day are not “fine” no matter what they say. I rarely tell people when I’m down in the dumps, and I’m sure most of us are pretty good at passing for fine. So how is it that we can not see that some of us need more than a “Hi, how are you?” in passing. 

Many of the 500 residents here had friends or relatives living here when they moved in. We did not. Neither did the friend who was depressed. And we did not find it easy to make new friends here. Yes, there are plenty of activities that we can join in. We have exercise classes, speakers and programs, committees galore. (That is we did until Covid. We’re just starting to get back to a semblance of normal.) I’ve volunteered for a few things, but I haven’t made close friends from those ventures. I have one good new friend here. One. How many others are in the same boat? 

I’m not sure if there’s a fix for this conundrum. But I think we should ponder it. Residents who moved to Seattle to be near children or grandchildren still need friends here. Unlike college, when we were all looking for friends, not everyone here needs new friends. But those of us who do, don’t have an easy way of advertising that fact. And people who’ve moved in to join an existing cadre of friends or family don’t need to reach out. 

At the very least, I will try to be more attentive when I ask how people are doing. Perhaps I’ll follow up with another question or two and give them an opportunity to open up a bit if they choose to do so. And maybe I’ll open up a bit. Truth be told, I don’t always share much during down times when I could really use a friend, and I’m guessing others don’t either. So I will need to experiment. I’ll report back.