(Continued from previous post: Chapter 1. Manyana, New Year’s Day)
* * *
Over dinner an hour or two later, with our pre-dinner edginess settled by a fine home-cooked meal, we debriefed the afternoon’s vision-creating session.
“It’s a shame we only do this sort of thing at Christmas,” Michael said. “What we created today was very powerful. We do good work when we’re together.”
Eve drew a knee up to her chin. “Did you notice how in our visions we all talked about being together? Every single one of us expressed the idea of staying closely connected in some ways in the future.”
I thought about the particular quality of our friendships. “You guys are like family to me in some ways, maybe in part because Rick and I don’t have extended family here in Australia.”
We talked further about the theme of family. Eve and Daniel both commented that they too, as ex-Americans without relatives here, appreciated the closeness of this group. Michael said that although he had lots of relatives here, he felt a particular closeness to us that mirrored the way he felt about his family. Judy expressed a view that she felt somewhere in between: she was close to her sister and her sister’s children and grandchildren, but her mother and father were both dead, and because they had been migrants, there was no other extended family around.
“The thing about families,” I said, “is that they’re yours for life. It’s so unconditional – no matter what you do, you can’t shake ’em. And I’m beginning to feel that with you lot.”
“Exactly right,” Eve said. “But that closeness we feel with each other is just one aspect of how this holiday is so special. Another is being out of the city. I love it here at the beach. The air is clear, you can see the stars, there’s no traffic or honking of horns. My soul gets rested. We don’t have that when we get together in the city.”
I couldn’t have agreed more. “It’s fantastic here,” I said. “Every time we come, I want out of the city. Without fail, whenever we take a trip out of town I find myself in front of the real estate agency, nose pressed to the glass, thinking: now here would be a wonderful place to live.” I glanced at Rick. “You’re just as bad.”
“I’ve lived in big cities all my life,” he said, “but I could leave urban living behind in a flash.”
“If we all move to the country, we’d hardly ever see each other anymore,” said Judy wistfully. “Unless….”
Eve completed her statement: “…Unless we moved to the country together.”
That comment triggered a rapid-fire conversation.
“I wouldn’t be able to move to the country until I retire…”
“…I’m never retiring. I don’t even like the word, ‘retirement’.
“…We could call it ‘forwardment’.”
“…Well, whatever we call it, what if we were to do it together?”
“…You mean, like a commune of ageing hippies?”
“…A community, not a commune.”
“…I’m not sure I’d qualify any more as a hippy, ageing or otherwise.”
“…We could live in a cluster, like Heather’s yurt village.”
“…Can’t stand yurts.”
“…Well, it doesn’t have to be yurts, obviously. It could be cabins.”
“…Or separate wings off a big house or some other arrangement where we’d all have our privacy…”
“…I’d really want my privacy…”
“…We’d need a place to escape to when Michael and Judy are fighting.”
“…We’re not the only ones who fight!”
“…As long as there was a good coffee shop nearby.”
“Well, whatever,” Eve concluded. “It’s a shame that in six days this will be over. We’ll get together for dinner now and then and to go to the movies, but the intimacy and energy that comes best with steady contact will drift away.”
I sat there reflecting on Eve’s statement, wondering: Does it have to be over? Perhaps there’s something unusual knocking on our door. Should we acknowledge that knock and welcome in the unexpected caller? I cleared my throat. “Do you think we should talk about this further? Try to keep the vision of creating a community together alive in some way?”
There was a chorus of agreement, ranging from “Why not?” to “Absolutely!”
“Well, let’s give ourselves three or four months to think about it and talk about it with our partners, and then get together and see what happens,” Judy said.
I reached over to the sideboard and pulled my pocket diary out of my handbag. I flipped over several pages. “How about April 16th?” I said.
“Sounds great. Let’s do dinner at our place,” said Judy. “Send us that date in an email.”
I took out a pen and wrote on the April 16 line: ‘Meeting to discuss our future together’.
A smile passed around the table. We’d just bookmarked the occasion on which we first thought about creating a community together – and then had given ourselves some time in which to think about whether this brainwave was just a wild child of the moment, or whether it was something we wanted to give more consideration.
I leaned back in my chair to reflect. You’d have to be crazy to throw in your lot with other people, I said to myself. Life is tricky enough with immediate family: why would I be so masochistic as to burden myself with several others as well?
But love them or love them not, I was actually considering the possibility of diving in with them.
* * *
A long and engaging conversation continued through dessert and into the evening. We found ourselves discussing our lives, our future, our old age.
I tried to express a realisation I was having. For twenty years I had been immersed in the process of raising children and making a living. Now suddenly I realised that I would be turning sixty in a few years. Sixty! When I brought my head up for a quick glimpse of this no-longer-distant future, I could see a very different life chapter looming ahead – and felt for the first time an urge to plan toward that.
We talked about our parents, and how they had handled themselves as they aged. I spoke about my concerns for my mother, alone now in her house, no longer anyone’s partner or caregiver. She was eighty-two, in good health with the prospect of many years ahead of her, still a gifted drummer in a band playing regularly for seniors’ events. Her house had expansive gardens, which she loved but would now be managing single-handedly. My parents had managed their finances to give them security in their old age, but now loneliness was the big factor. We talked about Michael’s father, who had died recently. For his last twenty years, after his wife died, he lived by himself in a small town on the lower north coast. He would occasionally walk over to the club, but spent most of his time in front of the television or with old detective novels. Michael and his siblings would come to visit now and then, but as their dad’s conversation was rusty and his spirits were low, he hadn’t been especially good company. We talked about Daniel’s mother, who refused to burden her children and was considering moving from her big house into a nursing home.
Such unpleasant possibilities.
We asked each other: what choice do we have about these things? Can we do anything to give us a chance at a better future? And what is it we really want?
We continued to paint a picture for ourselves: living together in a small community where we could learn from, enjoy and support each other; trusted friends providing spice to life, a greater variety of activities, passions and conversations. We could have people around us to watch movies with, to perform cooking experiments on and to solve problems with. We’d have someone to mind the house and feed the dog when we went away.
We talked about studies showing that people who are active and social into their old age live longer, happier, healthier lives. They have people to talk to, to care for, to work things out with – the stimulus of having people around encroaching on one’s tranquillity was a good indicator for a vital old age.
I thought about my own special constraint: I had had polio as a small child, and it had left me with a damaged ankle. I wore an orthotic and faced a future where sometime I would lose my mobility. Living with others who didn’t mind lending a hand could be…well, life-extending.
We talked about money, and making our savings stretch as far as we could. We all lived comfortably but were by no means wealthy. As separate couples, we could probably generate enough money to retire and support ourselves into old age, should the fates give us that gift – but perhaps not in the style to which we had become accustomed. We wouldn’t have enough to live in the home of our dreams near the ocean with plenty left over for travel and luxuries. But by pooling our resources, we thought, couldn’t we create something much closer to that vision?
Sharing expenses was an obvious reason why people get into communities together. Some things were crying out to be shared: swimming pools, yoga rooms, clothes washers and dryers, lawnmowers, barbecues. And there were many more things we could conceive of sharing: furniture, tools, perhaps even kitchens and media rooms. And imagine sharing our libraries – we were all avid readers and liked nothing more than to peruse each other’s book collections. Our joint libraries could entertain forever.
Shortly before midnight, as my thoughts were turning toward sleep, Michael suggested we all take a walk along the beach.
I freshened up immediately once we reached the ocean. The beach was deserted and the waves glowed with phosphorescent microorganisms crashing on the sandbank. The sky was clear with stars densely clumped overhead, while lighting crackled in a thin layer of cloud over the water at the horizon. There was a half-moon low on the horizon. It was magic. Rick and I wandered along the sand for a while, holding hands and quietly talking about some of the things we’d said and heard through the evening. Eventually, all six of us gathered along the water’s edge, heads craned back looking at the stars while Rick educated us about the constellations.
The moonlit waves were breaking gently on the shore, and I couldn’t resist wading into the shallow water. I said wistfully, “The water feels warm and wonderful.”
“Well,” said Michael. “Only one thing to do then. Last one in is rotten egg.” The shadows revealed a pile of clothes dropped to the beach and a glimmer of moonlight on skin as he dove into the water.
One by one, overcoming our fears of the mysteries of dark water, of what the others might think, of managing without towels and other post-swim comforts, we added our clothing to the pile and slipped into the gentle surf.
Never a dull moment.
* * *
The following day dawned just as perfect. I crept out of bed so as not to disturb Rick and slipped into the kitchen to make a coffee. Judy was standing there, elbows in a right angle to the table in a yoga stretch while reading the previous day’s paper.
“Want to go for a quick walk down to the beach?” I asked.
We headed down the road for the short walk to the ocean and climbed over the dune. I felt a familiar awe watching the spectacle of the waves of the Pacific Ocean ending their long journey against this wide golden beach.
The seashore was deserted except for a man and a little black and white dog, who were practicing a remarkable trick. The man would flick his wrist, and the dog would twist and rocket himself into a backwards somersault. Flick, backflip. Flick, backflip. It was an amazing feat of canine athletics, and the little dog looked as if he’d be happy doing it all day.
“Holidays are remarkable, aren’t they?” Judy said, shielding her eyes against the low-hanging sun.
“Yes,” I replied. “I love my work but then I come on vacation and start remembering that there’s so much more to life than spending the days in an air-conditioned office tower, being cerebral and pushing sales.”
“Wasn’t that a great conversation last night? I couldn’t sleep for thinking about it.”
I nodded. “How wild would it be to create a community together like that?”
“We could leave the city without the risk of becoming isolated. That’s the main thing that scares me about retirement,” Judy mused. “I’d be crazy if I were relying on Michael to provide all the stimulus I need to make me happy.”
“Of course. That’s true in any relationship.”
“And we’d be truly crazy to rely on the kids to provide all the inspiration we need to fulfil us. Their lives are full and who knows where they’ll end up?”
“And what if you got sick or died, and Rick had to deal with it by himself?”
“Not a pleasant thought, but I’m with you. Living together, we could face things collectively.”
“Fertilise each other’s thinking.”
“Support each other.”
“Not to mention having built-in girl conversations.”
We shared a smile.
The man and his little dog shared a tousle and a lick, then headed off up the beach, perhaps both craving a bit of breakfast. Or maybe that interpretation was just my own hunger speaking.
“Let’s go back to the house,” I said. “Into the fray.”