Group photo

Yusuf was coy about the content when he proposed a session on “educational stuff” during our retreat planning, but we were intrigued enough to put it on the schedule. It turned out to be a classroom “lesson” on Chicago’s single stream recycling system, complete with Powerpoint presentation, pre-test quiz, review of the rules and reasons for them, photos showing evidence of our recent failures to follow those rules, video of material going through a recycling center, and a post-test to see if we had learned anything. We did! Turned out to be a lot more fun than just being shamed about our ignorance of the system

Retreats in Fall and Spring have been part of our community practice since its inception 27 years ago. They provide time off from our normal routines and busyness to connect to each other, enjoy leisurely meals, and work on community business beyond the limitations of our regular monthly meetings.

Usually we go out of town for the weekend, but the pandemic put paid to that, so we stayed at home and freed ourselves from our other engagements. We began the retreat on Friday night by watching the movie “On the Basis of Sex” in honor of Justice Ginsburg, who died the previous week. We felt affronted by the sexist attitudes of the male characters, and cheered Ruth when she won her case. Next day, Trump announced her replacement.

On a previous retreat, we had done an introduction to Myers-Briggs personality types, which was a good way of getting to know each other at greater depth, and to see which community members had similar types.  This time, Karen gave a presentation on the Enneagram, another way of understanding ourselves and the fixations that motivate each of us. Afterwards, over lunch, we started doing imitations of each other’s quirks, asking “Guess who this is?”, and then, “Who is most likely to … (become president, live like a hermit in the woods, etc). 

During the afternoon, we each wrote messages on greeting cards to five people who used to come to Sunday dinners or other events open to friends and guests, but who can no longer participate because of the pandemic. We wanted them to know we still felt connection to them, and hoped to see them in-person later. In the same spirit of hospitality, we invited two house guests who are not community members but who are inside our pandemic bubble, Alperen and Si-Kai, to join us for dinner. 

At the end of dinner, Nur became excited to replicate DaVinci’s  famous Last Supper of Jesus painting. She pulled up a copy of the painting on her phone, placed Ben at the middle of the table as Jesus, and moved the rest of us into the right pose around the table. After 30 minutes of distractions and shenanigans, the scene was set and the camera clicked. Then it was time for Ben’s favorite game of Jenga, and a trip down memory lane for Lisa and Karen with background music provided by the Beatles. 

For Sunday breakfast, we enjoyed a real Turkish breakfast created by Nur and Yusuf, accompanied by real Turkish music. Our closing ritual was held in the backyard. The ritual centered around the signing of our community covenant, the common agreements about our life together. Lisa led us through a reflection on our mission statement, allowing people to comment on how they could see facets of it being lived in practice in recent times. During this space, several members commented on how happy they felt with the time spent together, feeling part of the group and connecting to one another, feeling stronger in commitment and appreciative of the community life. We placed the covenant document in the center of our circle, then performed a series of movements as we repeated each statement after the leader: 

  • We can live alone, controlling our own small world
  • We choose to live together, letting go of control
  • We choose to live in community, in relationship to each other
  • We commit to see each other, beyond all disguise
  • We commit to care for each other, in all emotional seasons
  • We pledge to support each other, in the ups and downs of life
  • We pledge to each of you for another year, according to our covenant.

Having each signed the covenant, we took our usual group photo, then crossed the street to take an additional photo in front of the 10-foot tall Black Lives Matter sign recently erected in front of the church. We had successfully adapted to the circumstances we found ourselves in, and strengthened our bonds as a community, ready for what may well be a Fall of quarantine, political and racial stress, and unpredicted joys.