We're just finishing up our four month stint in Sacramento, grateful to still have employment in a state that has a deficit bigger than most other states' budgets, grateful to have a lovely place to live while we replenish our bank accounts, grateful to have time with the kids and the grandkids, time with our California friends.
It's not the one-to-one loneliness of being without friends and family. It's been lovely to see everyone. It's the loneliness of not having community, of not having a band of people who are willing to connect in the grocery store, in the parking lot, in front of their houses. I miss the day to day easy socializing and connecting, the serendipity of who you will see, who you will talk to that day that comes with living in a village, of living outside the U.S.
(Except maybe Hector, NY. But that's a different story).
Those of you who have known me for years probably have intuitively understood that I'm the friend you drop in on, not the one you make plans with weeks in advance. Even when the kids were little, I loved that friends would feel comfortable enough to stop by without notice and could ignore the chaos of the house, nor would I feel compelled to apologize for whatever chaos they found.
When I first moved from Flagstaff to Sacramento 20 years ago, I told Michael that I would feel at home here as soon as I could depend on running into someone I knew at the local grocery store and meet my daily innoculation against loneliness with some unexpected casual conversation.
I'm still waiting. It's just too sprawling a community, too many people.
When Michael and I bought our first house in an old Italian neighborhood in Sacramento, one of the qualities I loved the most about the neighborhood was the lack of fences around the properties. When our neighbor behind us started making noises about putting up the 6-foot redwood fence, we had an ongoing conversation about how that could change her relationship with the neighbors. Her mother, the original homeowner, still gardened, still puttered around the backyard, still looked for casual conversation with us and others.
The fence never went up.
Immediate community is one of the reasons I loved boating so much, regardless of location. You have to walk from your slip in whatever marina you're in past dozens of boats with dozens of people. You can't help but get to know them. And they might not be people you would have thought to befriend elsewhere. But you have a commonality, a love of boating, and proximity. You're both there.
Being back in Sacramento this year, I'm reminded how lonely people are here. I walk this year's foster dog, Tucker, around the neighborhood and it's only the dog walkers who are out and about, maybe a few kids under the age of five.
But I can see in the windows, and what I see are pretty huge flat screen TVs, keeping people in the house company.
No one is sitting out front. No one is talking. The majority of people are uncomfortable if you try.
A young Mexican woman who had lived in Sacramento with her family for a while once told me that she thought America was so wonderful because it's so clean. But so lonely. She couldn't understand why Americans stayed in their homes every night.
I guess that's how I feel.
My eagerness to return to Mexico is more than the lovely temperature. I miss the simplicity of easy interactions. I miss seeing some of the elders in the village sitting out in front of their home with a few empty chairs by them. Don't even think about passing by without plunking your butt down for a five minute visit.
I didn't understand the importance of community when I was in my 20s, the way I understand it now. I understand that the community comes with all types of people, all types of complicated, dysfunctional people, but that it doesn't matter. They'll help you. You 'll help them. Even if all you need is a quick conversation to know you're not alone.
I don't know how we got so far away from this in much of America.
I'm headed back to Mexico to get my fill (and no doubt my irritations) from all the community I can get. Come find me. I'll be on the bench in the jardin near the church, waiting to have a conversation.