Love and community

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Writing time for me is two hours on a Sunday morning. I call it my ‘time off for good behaviour’; it’s often the only time I get to myself in the week.

I’ve been coming to the local library regularly for a good few years now. The women at the cafe know me and what I usually order; they ask after my kids and catch me up on important news in their families.

Then there are the other regulars. The elderly mob who are super friendly and cheerful, who always ask after my Mum.

The big nerdy English chap, whose studies have been interrupted by his stroke, who always comes and says hello.

Most weeks I’m very good at saying, “hello, how’s things, right now go away and let me write”, but this week a new friend finally moved past the ‘friendly nod’ stage. She sat down for a natter and whoops that’s half my writing time gone, just like that. Or more, because after discovering just how fascinating and delightful this new friend is, it takes me a little while to wrestle my brain back into harness. I have to relax, to remember that we have time. Time to ask those questions, unearth those stories, share those laughs. Friendship time is unlimited; writing time is not.

I’m not sorry, though. I am thrilled. The first library friend I made was literally a ten-minute chat before we both turned back to our respective screens. We only connected properly five months later when she turned out to be my son’s new kindy teacher. And over the years she’s become so much more than that: she’s a model of how I want to parent and woman and teach; she’s taught me about chooks and gardens and sewing; she’s started a community project bringing people together to sew cloth bags instead of plastic. I’ve helped her with university papers and childcare and chicken soup when she was sick. Not only are we richer for our friendship but so are our children, who have made friends with each other and gained a safe-house in the process.

We might’ve eventually figured it out during that chaotic kindy year, but with the library encounter under our belts we already knew we were onto something.

That something is rarely what you think it is. We’re not polished, perfect individuals. Every one of us has been shaken: failure, divorce, anxiety, illness, just plain feeling that we don’t fit in. Sharing it with a stranger in the library is really a great strength. It’s how we connect, by being vulnerable.

It’s taken me a long time of being out of academia to get – to remember – that connection is the whole point of this life. Connection is joy, connection is support, connection is power. It is the source of all our strength. We forget that at our peril.

Go. Be vulnerable. Connect.