Community can be defined different ways, and I consider my extended family, friends who live on the other side of the world, and even people I only know on the Internet to be parts of my community.
But there is something about the people you can touch, eat with, and live with.
Video chat is amazing but it’s not the same as being able to hug someone or talking face to face.
We live in a compound in Saudi Arabia. My tangible community is limited to the people in the compound or people my husband Stephen meets at work. It is very easy to only spend time with people I like and simply avoid anyone else. I cannot drive here (no women are allowed to drive), so I only go out with my family, in a taxi we’ve arranged with friends or on the compound bus for a weekly grocery trip. Being on the bus is the only time I have to interact with people I haven’t specifically chosen to be with.
Before we moved here I would have been around people at church or MOPS (a mothers of preschoolers group) or when taking a class at the gym. Those are great ways to meet new people but could also put you right beside someone smelly, rude, or overly friendly. For better or worse, that doesn’t happen to me here. Sometimes I miss it and the people it would bring into my life, but it also makes each relationship I have here a bigger part of my life.
About a week from now, four of our friends will live farther away from us. One couple is moving to a newer compound about half an hour away. We’ll be moving there eventually (maybe this fall), but we have to wait for the construction of new units to be complete. The other couple is moving to Doha, Qatar, which is a 4.5 hour road trip or a short plane ride away. Right now they are a short walk away. The ladies come with me on our weekly bus trip and help with my kids. They stop by some afternoons just to sit and talk and drink iced tea. I will miss them immensely. In fact, thinking about it has me tearing up, and that doesn’t happen too often.
However, that is the nature of where we are and this kind of work. People come and go a lot. We get plenty of practice in saying hello and goodbye.
Being intentional about community, about really having people be a part of our lives, means not holding back even if people are going to move away.
It means getting out of my comfortable space – being at home, having my few friends – and building relationships that could be quite short. But who knows? Maybe some of these friendships will last a lifetime.
I hope so.
I pray that I’ll be open to new friendships, that older friendships will continue even with distance between us, and that my children will behave on our bus trips.