No longer a housie but still in it together

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.

IMG_0349The 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

Four funerals and a birthday

Shortly after I posted a note last week about the death of college roommate David DeCoursey, a high school classmate, Francine Gouvin Bernard, posted a comment: “Sorry for your loss, Mitch. It’s starting…”

Actually, Dave’s was the last of four funerals I attended in 2014, but Francine was right about something starting: Just as many of our younger housemates at BHFH find themselves heading out to weddings, Carol and I are showing up at more and more funerals.

Brian Mitchell and family (photo courtesy of Tracy Mitchell)

Brian Mitchell and family (photo courtesy of Tracy Mitchell)

The first was for my cousin, Brian Mitchell, who died July 3 at his home on Cape Cod. At lunch after the service, Brian’s widow, Judy, told us that he went out in a way that, had he been given a choice, he might have chosen: Sitting on the porch with his wife of 53 years, drinking a beer.

Brian was ten years older than me, and I wish I’d made a point of telling him what a life model he’d become for me in two important respects: Charting a path that fits, and having fun along the way. Continue reading

Engaging strangers at dinner: Not everyone’s cup of tea

house dinner 2I’ve learned a lot from the Myers-Briggs, especially when administered and explored by my favorite former clinical psychologist. As an ENFP, one of my major take-aways is how differently I recharge my batteries than, say, someone whose profile begins with an I instead of an E. In Myers-Briggs terms, the difference between extroverts and introverts is a bit more nuanced than the popular understanding of the terms. In brief, it’s all about where we draw our energy: from interaction with groups or from more intimate, one-on-one or solitary settings.

Which brings me to the dinner table at Beacon Hill Friends House. When I hear we have guests for dinner, my ears perk up. I hope I end up sitting close enough to them at our long table to find out a bit about them and answer questions about the house. I also realize this is not a reaction shared by all. Continue reading

Thanksgiving for a life well lived

Rev. Jerry Singer at the 50th anniversary of his ordination, June 2, 2013, Nativity Church, Detroit

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

Three thoughts about the roots we grow in life

Bill and I are finishing up a week back in Florida, mostly all work for Bill, some work for me and some time with friends for both of us. I wondered what it would be like to revisit where we used to live. While I still have no regrets about moving to Boston, I do see the beauty in this place. One of the great joys of being here has been connecting with friends. I have sometimes bemoaned the way our various moves have left us with a certain lack of roots.

This trip has confirmed three things for me: Bill is where I am most deeply rooted. Boston is a great place to sink geographic roots. And we have deep roots with the people we’ve come to love and appreciate in the various places we’ve lived. I’m thinking especially of our friend, Judy, who generously turned over her home to us for the week even though she was on the other side of the country. And thanks, Marti, for shuttling us back and forth to the airport!

House of love, school of love

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 JihadKrista 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.

stacked otherwiseThat’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

Chocolate chip pancakes and the role of shared stewardship in community life

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

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