On Community

I think there is something to expat living, life lived at a distance from home, family, the familiar, that intensifies many of life’s day-to-days, elicits a greater appreciation for what can be so easily taken for granted. The particular food that is relished with renewed appreciation because it’s only to be had a few times a year. Family traditions which hold deeper meaning because so many seasons are spent apart, and passing by because you “happened to be in the neighborhood” is no longer an option. At the risk of sounding cliche, colors might just be a bit brighter, laughter of a loved one a little more appreciated, certain subtleties noticed and savored with a bit more regard, moments not taken quite as for granted….

There are the points of deep appreciation when I’m state-side (Sweet Life desserts, adherence to lines, {generally} sane approaches to parking, Pambiche, high mountain lakes, and road trips to name a few) but also in Beirut. A consistent supply of Crasins, and the blessed moments when TSC imports Tazo Chai and Santa Cruz juice. A crisp quality in the air or change of a leaf’s color causing more excitement then most would feel necessary. That moment when grocery shopping became relaxing again. Or when a restaurant (Tawlet) or shop (Metal and Wood) has the feel of home. But really it has been with regard to community and friendships that I have felt myself shifting the most, being less willing to take those I can share life with for granted, less willing to be passive or let other demands take precedence.

I’d like to think I’ve always valued the communities I’ve been a part of. But truth be told, before living in the ever changing social landscape of expat life, I’m guilty of taking for granted the many rich connections I’ve been blessed with. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. Call it human nature or the pseudo-relationality our very social-media driven societies can foster or something altogether different but it does seem fair to say that for many of us, people can all too often take a back seat to work, obligations, hobbies, service, or any number of pulls on our time and energy.  And it can be quite easy to put off building a friendship in the first place because tomorrow always seems to be a ready option. I have learned quite clearly over that past few years that it’s not.

In many expat circles, transition is the name of the game and people are coming and going at an amazing frequency. I’ve been fortunate to share rich seasons with a variety of people while in Beirut, and even more fortunate to have formed close friendships in the midst of the transitory norm. And I’ve been reminded that such friendships don’t form by osmosis or wishful thinking. It takes time, intentionality, acting on an impulse to learn about someone’s story and process, following curiosity, saying “yes”, pushing past what is comfortable, and taking each opportunity that comes to be with, whether an intentional time for coffee and a chat, or a conversation in passing, or, and I’d dare to say more so, when other tasks beckon.

My community has expanded in unexpected ways over the past few years; my mind now spins on how to fit in time in locations far flung because I have said “goodbye for now” to many fantastic people. And I’m grateful for the present community I get to share life with and all the lovely ways we’ll create to do so, be it a friend’s birthday celebrated with Punch ‘n’ Pie, a Saturday morning at the Farmers’ Market, a weekend hike, or a late night on the terrace sorting politics over dessert and wine.