Last night was a peak experience for me.
It was Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community's monthly potluck. This time I had offered to share the story of my childhood in Swaziland and how that had sent me on a quest for true community in Canada.
The cohousing community said they thought that would be a great idea. They suggested that we refer to it as an African-themed evening, and tell our non-cohousing friends about it. Consequently more people than usual showed up, and we quickly doubled up the number of tables and chairs that we'd set up in the Unitarian Church, which we rent for these occasions.
Susana provided sarongs for people to drape over their Canadian clothes, so as to add to the atmosphere. During dinner we had African music playing in the background.
After supper I told the story of a Swazi hunter whom I had known during my childhood. The loss of the habitat in which he had led his traditional lifestyle, the destruction of his society and culture, and his personal disintegration when my father replaced the natural bush with a sugar cane plantation seemed to me to be representative of the damage that globalization did to Swaziland.
During my midlife crisis I had come to long for the community spirit that I'd witnessed amongst the Swazi people during my early childhood, while their world still had been intact. This had sent me on a search that ultimately had led me to Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community.
Later several people expressed appreciation, and told me that they really "got" what I'd shared.
A key element of the evening was that a local teacher of African dance, Esther, and a band of drummers, led by Voodoo Dave, attended. When my story was finished, I handed things over to Dave and his crew. They led the audience through a couple of African songs. To the band's surprise, several of us already knew the songs, and indeed introduced different harmonies, as they were part of our repertoire at Everybody Sings on Thursday mornings.
The band then transitioned us into West African dancing, led by Esther. The potluck participants were great sports. The majority of them joined in the dancing. We dancers ranged in age from a university student through to a 79-year-old woman who is an energetic as people half her age.
I remember looking at the roomful of dancers and sarongs. Owing to the drum music that was providing the rhythm, Esther's teaching, and the participants' willingness to give it a try, everyone was moving in beautiful unison. It was community in action. It was a group of Canadians who, in a few minutes, had morphed into Africans. I mean they actually replicated that ability that a group of African people has to act as one body. You know how a school of fish is swimming in one direction and suddenly the whole school of fish changes direction in unison? Like that.
I knew I had been the catalyst by suggesting the theme, giving my talk, and persuading Voodoo Dave to join us. But, from that point onwards, other people had taken over. Norah gave me a ride to the church, as the route would have been long to walk if I'd been carrying a pot of stew. She also lent us her tape recorder for the background music during supper. Dave brought Esther and the other drummers. The potluck participants brought the dishes that turned into a delicious feast. The audience listened attentively to my story and, when they were invited to dance, jumped in with both feet. For the evening to turn into the magical event that it was, it needed everyone's contribution.
At various times, different members of our community take leadership roles. We're like geese who take it in turns to fly in front and then fall back into the slipstream for a more relaxed flight. If we confine the discussion just to potlucks, last month Andy Sibbald gave a presentation about his life in Canada's Far North. (Ironically, there are many parallels between Andy's experience and mine. He too witnessed loss of meaning and purpose amongst former hunters.) For next month's potluck, we're thinking of holding a Mexican fiesta, with Roz at the helm.
Anyway, back to that moment when I looked around the room at my fellow dancers, saw them totally "into" it, knew that I was one of them, and felt one with them ....... Words do not exist that could convey the profundity of that moment for me.
We are scheduled to move into our cohousing complex this coming spring. If our cohousing calendar is punctuated by occasions like this -- and I fully expect it will be -- the joy of living there will be off the charts.