Activating Community

By Cathy McNally

As I continue learning to live alone, life is good. Just returned from a wonderful family reunion in an area with abundant sun, white sand, and ‘not-too-cold’ water to swim in … a particular pleasure of mine. Picked up my life companion and night-time-cuddler, my 9-year-old Bichon Frise dog named Kipper. What could go wrong, right?

As I am washing my dinner dishes, I feel the swell and spread of heat and pressure up my body. As it reaches my eyes the gush of tears surprises me. I gulp and attempt to settle. This lasts about three seconds. Then another wave washes over me. As the next wave begins to build I give up trying to ‘manage’ this and welcome the wet mess. This truly is me right now. Tears rain.

I am forever a practical person. So far dish washing has continued. Now I can’t see, so a pause is necessary.

In the pause my sobbing gets louder and the ripple of feelings through my body is noticeable. My mind is moving fast, wondering what is up and what I should do – all part of my desire to understand and somehow control this. As I recognize myself having these thoughts, I surrender to the feelings and simply have them. So grateful that I can see my negative thinking and unhook. Diving into my feelings is an amazing way to move my energy and free up some space to clear my thinking. Not exactly ‘fun’ – and effective.

Tonight however, the wash of feelings is so huge. I am quite astonished. I realize I want support. I know my tendency to ‘do it myself,’ pull in, isolate – and fortunately am smart enough to not fall into this trap tonight.

Practical again. It is a few minutes after 9pm. Late for some of my friends. In the process of selecting the ‘who’ and pushing in the numbers, my crying has lessened. Just gone background for a bit, I realize. My practical and organized self is quite the thing!

My first “contact me anytime” friend does not respond to my text. She is very stretched in her life right now and sometimes goes to bed early. Move on. The next friend does not answer their home phone. I leave a vague and friendly message – no point in worrying them if I can’t reach them tonight. Third friend picks up on the first ring “What’s up?” are her first words.

I surprise myself again with containing my feelings and greeting her with social hello, reunion was great, and other ‘chat.’ I can feel the emotions churning in my belly. Eventually I quietly offer “Not doing too well this evening…” She is on me in a heartbeat. My words, tears, breath, sounds weave a cacophony of expression into the caring ears of my dear friend. She listens, … and listens, … and her deep loving is a salve for my aching heart.

Speaking is a particular way I can think. Useful. Moves things forward for me.

Speaking with a trusted friend is a treasure, a gift. I feel the shift in my energy. I feel space … and then fill it with another wave of emotion … and new awareness. The gentle growing relief and softening is tangible.

Time passes, some comfortable silences, and now we are laughing and remembering the last time we were each there for the other. With appreciation and caring our call ends. I sit in the quiet of my home with Kipper warming my thigh on the sofa beside me.  

I continue my reaching out with a message to another dear friend in a different time zone. I haven’t spoken to them in a while and miss them. I indulge myself with, in hindsight, rather too many words that speak of our friendship and caring. I am soothed even further with this connection, and find myself able to quickly complete tasks that have challenged me all day.

Next morning, I meet with a colleague who is also a dear friend. In the course of our lunch I share my experience of the past 24 hours. He listens easily and fully as I speak. We engage and go deep. The overwhelm of ‘meaninglessness’ and ‘depressing’ thinking that consumed me the previous night is something he understands. I experience him hearing me. I soften and settle. Thank you.

On my way home after our lunch, while walking Kipper in a local park, it occurs to me that I have been with my ‘community.’ I recall a quote from Parker Palmer that I read recently:

“Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other. It is not about the presence of other people – it is about being fully open to the reality of relationship, whether or not we are alone.”

I reflect on the past day and notice all the ways I activated my community. How I held each of these special people in my awareness. How my reaching out—whether I connected or not – is evidence of our relationship, for the other person as well as myself. I marvel at how affirming this is.

I am also struck at how messy and wet the ‘real’ me is these days. I am choosing to see this as growth, albeit of a soggy variety!

Celebrating the messy human eternally in us all, … well certainly in me!

Celebrating living alone … surrounded with amazing loving.

Celebrating my community.


Cathy McNally

January 19, 2016



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