For the first time in a couple of years, I climbed the steps to the Friends House not as a resident but as a guy with no way in.
I had to remind myself not to use the special doorbell code for housies who’ve forgotten their key. Instead, I pressed the bell once and waited, much as any passerby might.
The greeting I got from Ben was a boisterous reminder that, at least among my former housemates, I’m no stranger.
The visit got me thinking about what I share with the 32 people previously known as strangers with whom I did dish crew, shoveled snow, painted a bathroom, installed a lightswitch, scrubbed toilets, washed windows, sat in silence and passed the talking rock between June 2013 and August 2015.
Stepping into the office, Ben pointed me to a bin of mail the Post Office had failed to forward. I glanced at the mailboxes of the 21 current residents and noticed a couple of new names above our old slots
Heading downstairs to the kitchen, I ran into Billy, who’d made such an impression on Leila, our two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, that she was convinced he’d be joining us in our new apartment in Brookline. Encountering a friendly face I didn’t recognize, I figured it must be John, who moved in by virtue of us moving out. He lives now in our old room on the third floor. Continue reading
Clicking on this Google Map will give you a better view of where our new place is vis-a-vis BHFH, just a bit over three miles west along Beacon Street.
I’ve never been a big fan of transitions. I hate that feeling of being torn between the sadness of leaving one thing and the excitement of the new adventure. Bill and I have decided to move into an apartment across the hall from our daughter, Kate, her husband, Marton, and our grandchildren, Leila and Mateo. Not immediately, but by early August. As exciting and happy as that is, it also means leaving our community at Beacon Hill Friends House.
Over the past two years this community has been the welcoming home where we transitioned into the next phase of our lives. We’ve had the luxury of good friends and interesting souls with whom to share our lives. We’ve had none of the worries of keeping up our own place or shopping for groceries. Dinner was provided five nights a week. Continue reading
A group of friends clustered tiny houses together in Texas. (screengrab: lightersideofrealestate.com)
Coming up on two years at BHFH (it turned out that ayearinaroom wasn’t enough), we’ve applied for what’s known as “third year residency.”
The house puts a limit on how long residents can live here. At the outset, you’re admitted for two years. Staying longer requires an application making the case that you’ve been a reasonably reliable contributor to house life and that you’ll continue in that vein in the year ahead. A similar process is available for a fourth year, but that’s the limit.
In the two years we’ve been here, the house has welcomed 16 new residents. Four of them have left for one reason or another. Of our 19 current housemates, we’ve been here longer than 12.
As much as we’ve occasionally wished for a longer tenure, I think the residency limits make sense. Living in this sort of community can be a transformative experience, especially if it’s carried forward into something new. And there’s something about getting to know a new resident every six or seven weeks that makes life at BHFH even more interesting.
We’ve considered a number of options for life after BHFH. Continue reading
At a recent house meeting (we hold them twice a month at BHFH), everyone was invited to write a couple of pet peeves about living in the house and place them in a basket.
Some of the beefs that made their way into the discussion:
- Overloaded dishracks
- Crumbs around the toaster
- Interrupted conversations
- Lights left on in empty common rooms
Sound like any household you may have been part of at some point?
One of mine : “More a puzzle than a peeve — how to raise questions or issues with staff without feeling like walking on egg shells.”
One of Carol’s: “When people bring a lot of negativity or irritability into public spaces.”
In some ways, it’s strange that I’d be annoyed by the staff issue. I’ve felt from the start of our time here that one of the best things about BHFH — differentiating it from most coop living situations — is the work of staff who are paid to serve and lead a community they’re also part of. Continue reading
It’s snowing again in Boston. We seem to have a big storm every week and no warm weather in between for the snow to melt. So, you might wonder, why would I cancel a scheduled trip to Florida for a conference in the middle of it?
It was a hard decision for me. I grew up in a family where responsibility was the main virtue stressed. That notion was strongly reinforced by Catholic education in the 1950s. Doing what I say I’m going to do, doing what I’m supposed to do, living up to my responsibilities were primary. Hence, canceling a commitment goes against the grain.
In many ways, it’s a virtue that’s helped me in uncountable ways. It helped with parenting. It gave me a good work ethic and let me plow ahead through graduate school despite multiple difficulties.
It’s only as I’ve aged that I’ve seen it as a liability as well as an asset. Growing up, I don’t remember any discussion of these questions: To whom am I responsible? For what? How does that responsibility change over a lifetime? And how do I sort conflicting responsibilities? The answers to those questions make all the difference in whether responsibility works for good or ill. Continue reading
I have no idea what I was thinking when I decided to update our eight year-old iMac to the Yosemite operating system. Midway through the install, the screen went blank and there appeared to be nobody at all home — and no apparent way to ring the door bell.
Googling the problem showed many others had suffered the same fate, without any clear path to recovery. I really needed that machine in prepping for the teaching I’m doing this week in Vienna, but didn’t have the time to haul it down Boylston to the Apple store.
And then I spotted Sumner, a former housie, sitting in the kitchen. Sumner is a programmer who continues helping his former housemates in all sorts of ways — honchoing our workdays, tweaking our new high speed wireless and more. So much so that I was reluctant to impose on him for volunteer tech support on a Saturday morning.
“No problem,” he said when I went ahead and asked anyway. With his phone he discovered a possible solution that had eluded me. “But hold down your hopes,” he cautioned as I headed upstairs muttering Hail Marys and hoping, despite his cautions, that the old beast might somehow come back from the dead. Continue reading
1993 Photo of Evelyn Mitchell by Anne Peters
I’ve written previously about Talking Rock, the device we use at house meetings to share what’s going on in our lives. Whoever happens to be sitting closest to the rock (it lives on the fireplace mantel in the library) grabs it and spends a couple of minutes updating the 20 other housemates.
The revelations range from matter of fact to life and death. As much as I’m getting more comfortable with the exercise, I still struggle to get beyond the nuts and bolts of daily life and share at the level of my braver housemates.
A show and tell/talent show at a recent house retreat seemed like a good opportunity to go deeper, especially since lack of musical or related talent had me leaning toward the show and tell option for the session.
So a few minutes before the group gathered in the parlor, I grabbed the photograph of my Mom, Evelyn, from our room. I began framing the story I wanted to tell about this eldest daughter who gave birth to me just a few miles from where we live now on Beacon Hill. Continue reading
One of my big fears about moving to BHFH was that it would be harder for us to have people visit, hang out, feel at home. If Bill and I had a mission statement for our marriage, providing hospitality would be front and center. I hoped that people we love would feel comfortable hanging out here, but I didn’t know. I hoped that our housemates would be comfortable with our family and friends, but, again. I didn’t know. Not everyone appreciates having a rambunctious 21 month old or people they don’t know invading their space.
Mostly it’s worked out well. Clearly our son-in-law and granddaughter feel comfortable enough in our home to fall asleep in the library shared by all 21 residents. Leila loves to ride the elevator, play hide and seek around the dining room and explore all the different staircases. She has a place she prefers to sit at the dining room table and when we do a round of names (when we have guests at dinner) she usually pipes up with “LEILA!” Our house mates have been patient with her noise and our clear adoration of her. One of the big pluses for her is having a whole new set of aunts and uncles whose names she is gradually learning, sort of. Clarissa is known as Issa and Ryan is Iyan. Continue reading
Rev. Jerry Singer at the 50th anniversary of his ordination, June 2, 2013, Nativity Church, Detroit
This has been a sad few days. As we were leaving church Sunday morning, Bill checked his email and discovered that yet another friend had died. Jerry Singer was the pastor of our best ever church community. He was also a good friend.
Over the last several years I’ve lost my mother, my only two aunts, three cousins, three important mentors (now four) and several friends. While I understand that death is part of life and on one level am not afraid of it, I still finding it shocking. How can it be that this person who was so full of life is no longer there? Where did they go?
And maybe more important, what of them is left? What is their legacy? How might I help keep it alive and pass it on?
Living at BHFH, we’re focused on what it takes to build a strong and enjoyable community. I wish my fellow housies had had a chance to witness Jerry’s community building in action. He knew everyone in the parish by name. Whenever someone new showed up at Sunday Mass he greeted them before the service, asked their name and before Mass started introduced them to the community. Unlike many pastors, he shared power easily, often being guided by the congregation rather than imposing his own opinions. Continue reading
Nothing quite like being jolted out of bed early in the morning by a fire alarm instead of my usual alarm. Especially in a big old house in a city where there have been numerous bad fires in big old houses. Once I was fully awake I was pretty sure it was a false alarm. We’ve had a few of those lately because something is out of kilter with our alarm system. Still, the idea of heading outside into the 20 degree weather in my pjs did not sound like fun.
But, as I ran into sleepy housemates in the hall something interesting happened. Annoyance turned into amusement. We all looked pretty funny. It was a false alarm. Sharing the irritating experience took some of the sting out of it. Pretty nice to have laughter instead of the whining I might have otherwise engaged in. One more plus of living in community.