Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Testament to the Viability of Community Seeds

Two days ago I returned home from a two-week West Coast trip and I wasn't in the house for 30 minutes before the phone was handed to me—someone was calling from Florida trying to track down an intentional community in Missouri that was making sorghum in the early 80s. Well, I figured, it had to be us.

"What's your name?" I asked. "Steve Imhof," came the reply. No bells were ringing. OK, I reasoned. We're talking 25 years ago and I can't remember everyone. It's even possible he visited while I was away. "Tell me more about your connection to Sandhill," I invited.

"Well," he said, "my wife and I were midwives living near Canton... " and then it all rushed back.

"Oh, my God! You're wife is Joy and you delivered my son! As a male midwife, Ann's and my child was the first birth you attended solo." He had found who he was looking for.

"How well do you remember me?" he queried. Not sure where he was going, I paused. I recalled an awkward conversation we had on the topic of abortion. I favored it being treated as a woman's choice; he and Joy were part of a fundamental Christian religion that viewed abortion as murder. Having committed to Steve & Joy as our midwives, it was tricky navigating this emotionally volatile issue. To both our credit though, we successfully backed away from an awkward moment and Ann & I went on to have a terrific experience of Steve's support as the midwife for our home birth.

"I recall some of your story," I replied cautiously. "Well," he said, "At the time my wife and I were caught up in a weird religious trip that took us almost 20 years to get untangled from. That was about eight years ago and and I've been doing a lot of soul searching ever since, trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. While Joy and I left the church at the same time we didn't follow the same path thereafter and we separately five years ago. We just weren't interested in the same things. Throughout this time I was sustained by the memory of Sandhill and how you were living a life where people were happy. You grew your own food, and everyone took part in child rearing. It was such a positive image I wanted to see if I could find you again."

I was blown away. My son, Ceilee—whom Steve had helped birth—turned 27 in January, and we had had no contact with Steve & Joy since a post-natal check-up right after the birth. That's a long time to keep an ember alive, hoping eventually it can be used to rekindle a flame. It did his heart good just to hear that we were still here, still making sorghum, and still happy.

I told him that Ceilee was doing well (and that, in fact, he had his first child last April, making me a grandfather for the first time), and that while Ann was now living in Floyd County VA (having left Sandhill in 1999) she and I remained quite close. I gave Steve Ann's email address.

Steve explained that he tried to ferret us out by doing a web search through the Communities Directory. Imagine his surprise when he learned that the FIC—publishers of the Directory—was headquartered at Sandhill, a mere 200 feet from where I was talking to him on the phone. (Back in 1981, I was barely started on my career as a community networker, and the FIC didn't even exist. Not only had I offered him an important inspiration more than 27 years ago, but I had subsequently pursued a life path that provided the essential tool that made it possible for him to find me again. It sent chills up my spine.)

I told him that I'd be down his way in two weeks, in Atlanta doing a facilitation training Sept 15-18. He promised he'd try to get up to see me, but if not then we'd try to get together another time down the road. Small world, eh? Having gotten this far, I feel certain our meeting again will happen, and that it will be a good thing for both of us.

The best part though was not his overcoming the long odds to find me; it was learning that in some small, yet powerful way, Sandhill—as a living breathing community—sustained Steve through a hard time in his life, like a life ring in a stormy sea. While I'm sorry about the rough weather, I'm very proud to have been a beacon of hope. As a person who has dedicated his life to community and social change, that's as good as it gets.

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