When I was in my early twenties I had to re-invent my whole life. At the time I was living in a religious community. My life revolved around the people and activities within this community apart from my work as an engineer which brought in a useful income. Tithing was practised by all working members of the community to help support those whose service was full time but otherwise unpaid.
Volunteering was expected and I gladly played my part in helping at the local school for kids with both cerebral palsy and behavioural problems, taught at the Sunday school, was a youth leader/counsellor, using my holidays to take underprivileged kids away to the seaside, and various other things. Life was full and busy. I was mostly happy in this time.
Living in a community involves an unusually high level of external awareness. You have to anticipate likely problems and deal with them before they become big, otherwise disharmony takes root and small issues become huge bones of contention. Sometimes this causes you to loose focus on yourself. This was always encouraged as self absorption was seen as an entirely negative thing. Questioning the basis of the ideology/theology practised was also largely discouraged. It was this aspect of group living that I struggled with the most.
Oh I wanted to believe what I was being told. Really I did. But the lack of evidence and logic gradually whittled away my confidence/faith until I was no longer sure that there was a good foundation for anything I was being told. Even so since I was mostly happy there I quelled my pedantic and inquisitive nature as best I could for the sake of harmony. I liked living there and feeling so accepted in this group. I've never felt that in my life since that time.
I was engaged to a lovely man who had felt the call to work alongside those distributing bibles in eastern block communist led countries. He was to be away for 2 - 3 years and we had planned to marry on his return. Whilst away he met his true soul mate and wrote to tell me of this change in his circumstances. I was not heartbroken. We had already been apart for nearly a year by this time and I'd grown used to his absense. It's funny really that I knew then what I struggle to know now ... that two people must be fully committed for a relationship to flourish.
When my now ex-fiance next wrote it was to ask me to provide accommodation for his girlfriend. She was on the run from an abusive husband who had been physically violent towards her. She needed a safe place to stay whilst she filed for divorce ... away from friends and family. He trusted me and I honoured that trust.
Being part of a community means you have to conform to the conventions of behaviour within the group. On becoming aware that I was housing a fugitive, and more ... a married woman on the run from her husband, I was told in no uncertain terms that I must desist immediately and force this woman to return to her husband. On the face of it this might sound heartless but the aim was that they might be able to work out their problems with the help of a christian minister/counsellor. I refused to send her back to that man. Instead I gave her the option of staying as long as she needed to. Things escalated from there until one afternoon when I was called before the elders. I was given the stark choice of complying or leaving. I was condoning sin and that was not to be tolerated.
So I left. I arranged for my new friend to stay with my ex-fiances family. They welcomed her and kept her safe. All told she's only stayed with me for about 4 months or so.
And from there my life changed forever.
Only two people from the community would be brave enough to defy convention and stay in touch with me. Ultimately both left some time later of their own accord. In a matter of hours I lost my home, my friends, my already teetering faith. At the time it felt like the end of the world. In reality it forced me to live in the world in a way I'd never have had the chance to if I'd carried on living in the community. Until you spread your wings you've no idea whether you have the strength to fly or not.
When I think about radically changing my life now I look at the woman I was back then with a kind of awe. She was so determined to do what she thought was right regardless of the consequences or personal cost. Where has that woman gone? I can't seem to find any trace of her in this faded facsimile.
sketchbook drawing as prep art for an oil painting
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