Being the Change at Friends House

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Friends in the library at Friends House, photo by Friends HouseYesterday morning at 8:20 AM, the last batch of residents at the simple buffet breakfast was discussing the future of capitalism. Only at Friends House!! By 8:35 several of us were remembering fragments of Russian from college fifty-five years ago. After breakfast, laughing and admiring the beautiful morning and the colorful gardens, we dispersed. Clare took her seeing eye dog for her morning walk while I went off to hang my laundry on the line. Joan headed for the daily exercise class (she is also in the yoga group) and Lizzie wheeled herself towards her apartment, where there are gorgeous roses and a tiny tree bearing huge oranges near her front door.

The garden apartments here are arranged in four clusters, with 18-20 in each. Most of us are single and have an apartment to ourselves. We like to say we are living alone together here.

Clare recently moved across the campus fro m one apartment to another. Her move was characteristic of cooperation at Friends House. To move the heavy furniture, she recruited some young veterans from a poetry group she’s in. Then all the rest was carried by us neighbors – or wheeled along on hand carts, grocery carts or walkers – in a long parade that trekked along the paths from the old apartment to the new one. Each person helped according to his or her ability, as we do in all aspects of community life here.

This cooperative culture reflects our care for each other and for the environment.  We share cars and give each other rides. We share laundry facilities and clotheslines. Friends House has solar panels, electric car hook-ups, point-of-use water heaters, fruit trees and vegetable plots. Many of us walk to the shopping center next door for groceries, hardware, second-hand clothes, or pizza!

My friends in town still occasionally exclaim that I am too young to be living in a senior community. (I am only 73.) But it is wonderful for me. I so appreciate the social grace and good humor about aging, about health challenges, about losing spouses and friends, about approaching the end of the road. It is good to be able to talk forthrightly about these things.

Another wonderful aspect of life in a senior community is that we all live in small apartments with few possessions and only small gardens to tend, which means that many of us are free for other good and interesting activities. For example, one group of volunteers brings in speakers, performers, and movies every week. Two or three persons tend our extensive library, and five or six sell excess books on Amazon to raise money for the resident support fund. We have among us several published poets and authors, a professional quilter, several productive knitters, and many who create paintings, sculptures, handicrafts, and music of various kinds.

Some residents are active in the greater community, too, as advocates for peace and justice, for the homeless, for war tax resistance, and for environmental sanity.  We participate in Redwood Forest Friends Meeting, at other local churches, with the Sonoma Peace Center, and on various councils and commissions. Steve continues with the work he has been doing for years to develop the SmartTrain (it will open  in 2016, we hope), and the McCrackens attend city council meetings and advise others how to vote.

Many attend meetings with the management team at Friends House. We know our home will need to expand soon to be sustainable financially, and we are thinking about ways to do that while maintaining the Friendly and cooperative culture we enjoy here so much today. Friends House gives living testimony to our Quaker values of simplicity and community. Living here, we have the opportunity to “be the change” we want to see in our world.

Still a member of Davis Friends Meeting (PYM), Elizabeth Boardman is one of the newest residents of Friends House, a Quaker-inspired retirement community in Santa Rosa, CA.