Some residents of Beacon Hill Friends House call it the house of love. Sometimes when we’re feeling warmed by the care we show one another, it means just what it says. Other times, when tensions are high, it’s used sarcastically. For me, house of love means a commitment to enter a school of love whether life is warm and fuzzy or fingernails-on-a-blackboard. It’s all about learning how to keep expanding the circle to include more and more, learning to love whom and what is in front of me instead of wishing they were different.
In her book, My Accidental Jihad, Krista Bremer describes the development of her relationship with her husband, Ismail, a Libyan Muslim. She is honest about the ways their cultural differences grate. She reports him telling her that Mohammed once said that the most difficult jihad people must fight is within themselves – against intolerance and self-absorption.
That’s what the house of love is all about: Learning how to let go of my intolerance and self-absorption. And there’s nothing like living in a diverse community to make me confront it. Take a small example. We have a dish sanitizer (called the Avenger). I believe the rack should be loaded logically, putting likes with likes so more will fit. I can become quite grumpy if things have been put in helter skelter and there’s no room for my dishes. I’ve even been known to reload it to make more things fit because my preferred way of doing it is most likely the right way. It took a long time before I could hear another housie’s concern that loading the sanitizer rack too densely might make it heavy enough to hurt someone’s back when they put it into the machine. Continue reading
Some of our friends and family enjoy describing our living situation at Beacon Hill Friends House as a hippie commune. Anyone who’s spent any time at BHFH knows the reality of the place falls far short of a houseful of flower children.
Except last weekend, perhaps, if you paid a visit to the public restroom by the dining room during our annual barbecue for more than 100 friends of the house. There, displayed invitingly on a low table by the door, was a basket of condoms.
In our day, Carol and I were big believers in condoms. But never so much that we offered them up to visitors like so many tissues in a box or candies in a jar.
I realize that condoms are in many ways a healthier gift than jelly beans. And that makes the community tension I’ll describe all the more interesting. Continue reading
After staying in Airbnb places in Detroit, Budapest and Vienna, it’s been interesting to experience the other, host end of the service. Beacon Hill Friends House has two guest rooms now listed on Airbnb, and the listing is generating lots of visitors.
Apart from occasional duty greeting a guest when our residency manager, Ben, is away from the house, encounters happen mostly in the kitchen. Breakfast is included in the cost of the stay. The breakfast table conversations are intriguing on several levels. Among them: the visitors’ stories of life from whence they’ve come, more often than not overseas. But it’s also fascinating to hear their reactions to the house, the neighborhood and — in the case of international visitors — the country. We’ve had recent visitors from Australia, Uruguay, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Spain, Colombia, Pakistan and Austria. Continue reading
One advantage of reading a newspaper in print is the chance you’ll stumble into something good you never would have searched for online. Like Tom Farragher’s first-house piece in the Boston Globe’s revamped Sunday real estate section.
Telling the story of the Connecticut house where he and his wife, Joanie, learned to be husband and wife, Tom got me thinking about Beacon Hill Friends House and what it’s teaching me.
In neither case is it just about the house. Continue reading
By the time I made it down to the kitchen, the place was packed. Housies, housie family members and overnight guests were all in motion — cooking, cleaning, eating, talking around a table strewn with two newspapers and all the makings of a holiday weekend breakfast. It felt a lot like the ones we’ve enjoyed over the years with family.
But there was a difference. Although I spotted Carol cranking up the blender at the far end of the room, I was related to none of the dozen or so others in the room. This was not a family gathering, but it reflected a dimension of relationship we’re finding increasingly essential to our lives.
That’s Danny on the left
Presiding at the big six-burner gas stove was Danny, at 21 the youngest of BHFH’s 21 residents and one of its more accomplished cooks. The way I began the day with his chocolate chip pancakes — cooked up for everyone in the room — re-enforced an idea I’ve been noodling a lot in recent days.
There is something about the shared experience and stewardship of community life that enriches — and eases — day-to-day life in ways I hadn’t imagined. It’s not that this sort of community is without its challenges, so don’t mistake my enthusiasm for a blanket endorsement of life at BHFH. Continue reading
Regular readers may have noticed the diminished frequency of our posts.
As Carol noted (in her most recent post): “I have a confession to make: We’re not really spending a year in a room. In the eight months we’ve lived at Beacon Hill Friends House we’ve travelled extensively both for work and for pleasure.”
And unlike more accomplished bloggers, we’ve not yet mastered the skill of sustaining a regular pace of publishing while we’re on the road.
One thing we are learning: How to appreciate community where we find it. Some of those places: On the road for three weeks in Vietnam with a band of 14 fellow travelers who quickly became friends; at Bamboo, a co-working space in downtown Detroit that Kirk Cheyfitz and Ellen Jacob and I have adopted as an office-away-from home; at our new parish, the Paulist Center across from Boston Common.
The Vietnam trip, organized by old friends Hoa & Tom Fox, got me enthused about a style of travel that has been around for a while but that I’d not experienced: A group assembled around common interests in addition to curiosity about the destination. In this case, the Foxes gathered friends of the National Catholic Reporter, the liberal weekly Tom led for more than 30 years. Together, they guided us through Vietnam, where Hoa met Tom and where they lived before moving to Detroit (and meeting us) in 1972. Despite age gaps — in some cases, they spanned half a century — the group found a pace and a purpose that seemed to work for all concerned.
An insight-in-retrospect: What I found especially interesting was placing myself in the shoes of fellow travelers with the idea of seeing things differently than was possible on my own. Continue reading
I have a confession to make: We’re not really spending a year in a room. In the eight months we’ve lived at Beacon Hill Friends House we’ve travelled extensively both for work and for pleasure. In fact, I’m writing this post from Hue, Vietnam. I don’t see these trips as an escape from community, but rather a chance to explore community in different ways.
To better understand Vietnam, I am reading Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald. She points out that the Vietnamese and American psyches are different with regard to space. For Americans, space seems less limited and the possibilities for expansion enormous. For the Vietnamese, it is clear that there is very limited space and to take too much of it is to deprive another. As Fitzgerald puts it:
Within the villages as within the nation, the amount of arable land was absolutely inelastic. The population of the village remained stable, and so to accumulate wealth meant to deprive the rest of the community of land, to fatten while one’s neighbor starved. Vietnam is no longer a closed economic system, but the idea remains with the Vietnamese that great wealth is antisocial, not a sign of success but a sign of selfishness.
The ways we share space or make room for one another (or not) color our own happiness as well as the health of our community.
Among the scenes I’ve found most compelling in Vietnam is traffic, as reflected in the accompanying video captured by one of our travel companions, Bob Fox. Continue reading
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For those of you who are visiting via another route today, here’s the link from NPR’s Facebook page that’s sending so many visitors to A Year in a Room.
Six months into our time at BHFH, we’re enjoying life in the house so much that it’s hard to imagine moving elsewhere. But all residents are term-limited at a max of four years and there’s always a possibility that our stay could be shorter.
So we’ve kept one eye on what might be next, a perspective informed the other night by something called a Coop Crawl — sort of like a pub crawl except that you visit coop housing sites instead of saloons.
Since most of you are probably as new to the world of coop communities as we are, here’s a basic primer on the three categories we’ve become familiar with:
- Collections of like-minded people forming households that typically share space, food and decision-making — and sometimes politics and worldview, too.
- More formal set-ups (like BHFH) guided by specific expectations of conduct and collaboration
- Hybrid arrangements (like co-housing, discussed below) that include more private space and ownership than that offered by coops
Dave Goodman in the common kitchen at JP Co-housing
Common to all three is a commitment to “intentional community,” an approach to daily life that demands and values getting up close and personal with people outside your family.
As one of our Crawl hosts, David Goodman, said the other night, “It’s not for everybody.” David lives at Jamaica Plain Co-housing and noted that one of his relatives puts it this way: “I love co-housing except for the ‘co’ part.” Continue reading
Yesterday I turned 65. Bill and I had a really great day together, including a birthday dinner at the house. But there was no big ritual about it. I signed up for Medicare the month before. The day before I got my senior pass for the T, which allows me unlimited rides for $28 a month. But I did give a lot of thought to generations.
Over the last several years Bill and I have lost all the family members of the generation ahead of us except for one of my uncles. We’ve also lost our mentors and people who inspired us as they walked the path ahead. I understand far better now Marian Wright Edelman’s need to write the book Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors to honor the people who mentored and shed light on the way for her.
Just a month ago, we lost someone who started inspiring us in college and continued to do so up until his death. John Dunne was a prolific writer who taught at the University of Notre Dame for over 50 years. He was a great lover of God who saw life as a journey with God through time – a great adventure of which death was, perhaps, the most adventuresome part. Continue reading