Wendell Berry writes at length about “community.” I was first introduced to his writing when I took an English class three years ago. The class was taught by a young professor who chose “community” as a general theme and as an extension, “friendship.” We read Berry’s book, Hannah Coulter, The Wind in the Willows, and various excerpts from other writers including Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics. We moved our desks into a circle and he would challenge us with questions on what we were reading collectively. That class remains a favorite of mine.
“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” – Wendell Berry
I spent the better part of today cooking dinner for a beloved local family in the midst of a crisis. The news they have recently shared is now good, but it was less than two months ago that this young couple heard the devastating news that their only baby girl, just three years old, had Leukemia (ALL). The type she has is highly curable and her prognosis is excellent, and though she is already in remission after beginning treatment, she still has two years of treatment remaining to be sure she stays in remission for life. She will.
Within days of her diagnosis, their closest friends sprang into action and one of the first things they did was set up a website where you could sign up on available days to bring a meal to the family. As they travel back and forth to UCSF, and with grandparents taking shifts at their home, it is one small way for the community to feel like they are helping to make things a little easier as they deal with a giant fork in the road that they never saw coming.
As I planned the meal, went shopping for ingredients and set about spending the day in the kitchen, I thought a lot about this town. My first visit to Healdsburg was many years ago, married at the time, my husband said one Sunday, “Let’s take a drive.” We were living in the East Bay and he had been asked to consult on a hotel project in Healdsburg. Before he formally accepted, he wanted to see the town.
I grew up in the East Bay. He grew up in Ohio, and though Healdsburg isn’t that far from where I grew up, I knew nothing about Sonoma County other than “wine country.” The only wine country I had visited at that point was the Napa Valley. And so we spent the day roaming around. To say I was smitten was an understatement, but at that time moving wasn’t even in the cards.
Several years later, my brother-in-law, who was living and renting in San Francisco, decided it was time to buy his first piece of real estate. My husband, his older brother, told him to check out Healdsburg. He did, and it was here on Grant Street that he bought his first home.
It’s funny how things work out. When my own son, Jarrod, was going through cancer treatment during the summer of 2003 in Walnut Creek (which was not too long after my brother-in-law bought in Healdsburg), we stayed at my parents’ house close by. Jarrod was a college student in San Diego and I was living in Palm Springs. There was a three week break between his chemotherapy treatments. I took a temporary job, I hovered over my kid until he told me to back off a bit, and I spent many weekends on my own in Healdsburg.
My brother-in-law offered his house to me that summer. He didn’t live here full time and presented it as way of me helping him come up with some ideas to refurbish the place. I think he realized that a little time spent on my own, and with a project to keep me busy, might be a good way to help me deal with all that we were going through that summer.
I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t know the people that would become my closest friends five years later lived right next door. I didn’t know the house across the street would one day be the home of the lanky blond who knows all my secrets and that these were the friends who would get me through another rough time a few years down the road. I didn’t know that so many living in the community then would end up becoming so much a part of my life now. I only knew that I had a child battling cancer. That is what consumed me at that time, but in spite of that, I was able to breath on those weekends of respite. Jarrod had a good prognosis right from the beginning. I held on to that and had to believe with every cell in my body that he would survive. There was no other option. So I was able to let go a little bit and enjoy my time in this small city of strangers.
Healdsburg got under my skin. I wanted to live here. I didn’t know exactly when or how, but the thought was never far from my mind. It took me five years following that summer to get here and it’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since. It has been a journey to figure out where I wanted to be. I’ve lived a lot of places that I called home, but I always knew they were temporary homes and for awhile, I was okay with that. I liked new places, new adventures, new houses and new people, but eventually I wanted to land somewhere. There was a road that led here. There were detours along the way, but eventually it led right here.