"You can't plan intentional community" by Madison Clark

Madison Clark is a first-year Esperanza Teaching Fellow living in intentional community in Lawrence, MA. She serves as a teaching assistant at the independent, tuition-free Esperanza Academy for middle-school-age girls from low-income backgrounds.

Esperanza fellows began their work at the beginning of July. I moved my belongings into the house, stumbled through a few mornings of orientation at school, and spent the month-long summer session trying to sort through the hilarious challenge that is teaching middle school girls. I was well aware of our plans for intentional community but, in my head, they were always in the intangible future: "after Life Together orientation," "once the full school year begins," or even "anytime but tonight." For me, it felt like this looming goal that I really did want to accomplish, but just kept pushing back.

I then learned that structures for intentional community can be proposed, discussed, amended, discussed some more, and put into place. I learned that you can build in a weekly house dinner, set up a common area chore system, and move into each day with end goals of open communication. I learned each of these things by experiencing a few weeks of serving my community by trying out new recipes for house dinners, by working my way through kitchen duty, and by tentatively trying (and failing) to incorporate some nonviolent communication into my interactions.

But, until this week, I didn't genuinely realize that intentional community doesn't magically result from structures. Sure, our newly implemented Wednesday night Grey's Anatomy watching is technically a structure. And, sure, our plans to share our spiritual autobiographies during Prayer Partners is, technically, another structure. But you can't plan for the way we check in on each other when it's our week to share our story, nor can you plan for the way we openly admit our nerves. You can't plan the way our dinners now include the offering of what we are grateful for. You can't plan to find yourself doubled over laughing as we add another item to our ridiculous house bucket list, birthday cake Oreo in hand.

I am slowly coming to hear "intentional community" and immediately thinking "comfortable laughter in a chilly kitchen while we each eat after-school snacks." I am learning that so much of this stems from an innate willingness to both struggle and succeed together. I am realizing that the building of this intentional community will never truly end, and that these fine humans I share a home with are people who are capable of fighting with me over how to share a couch minutes before offering a silently supportive hug. We're already a bit of a mess, and a bit of a legend, and I wouldn't have it any other way.