I have never felt as much a part of a close-knit community as I did in university. On the very first day, three of us (out of five) in what you might I suppose call a dorm discovered an instant friendship. By the cancelled 50th reunion in 2020, one of us was no longer alive to attend. In between, and still now, there was just something very special that started back then.

Perhaps it was literal proximity. All of us, that first year, lived within walking distance of one another. Later, some moved out to independent accommodation, but were still a short bicycle ride away. There was a huge amount of unplanned socialising, dropping in unannounced on one another, staying for tea, going for a meal, a drink. If you were busy, you said so and they left, no hard feelings. There was the shared adventure of finding things out together, of making sense of the intellectual offerings, of struggling with one another to understand. There were shared excursions, to someone's parental house, to the beach, to concerts.

All that, I find myself wanting still and not having.1 There are friends and acquaintances, but none of the easy socialising. Meeting up involves planning, and transport, and reservations. If you're lucky you might share experiences, but too often they don't thrill to the books you're reading and you're not drawn to their TV. So you chat, but there's not that same misguided student thing of setting the world to rights as you do so.

There were, really, several overlapping communities that each seemed able to put their differences aside. In the boat crew2 there were god-botherers and rugger-buggers, but nobody cared as long as you were pulling your weight. The political cliques tried to be exclusive, but weren't actually exclusionary. Sciences, humanities, arts mixed fluidly.

In the end, of course, everyone went their separate ways. Some stayed together, for better and for worse, at least for a while. Some were never heard of again. For the core, though, I like to think that the bond of community remains, that each would do anything asked of them by another, within reason, and that actually, if we all found ourselves living in close proximity once again, we would all consider that A Good Thing.

I have another friend, not part of that group, who often talks about NORCs, naturally occurring retirement communities. She, like me, is keen to recover the closeness and independence of college life. Could it ever happen, that a collection of like-minded people move into a circumscribed area? I want to think so, but I fear time is running out for all of us. While I tend not to dwell on it, I do miss being part of a physically close community, but clearly not enough actually to do anything about it. Yet.

This post is a submission to Community and Belonging, hosted by Alex for the IndieWeb Carnival.

  1. Online communities are great, and even better when they get together IRL, but they are no substitute. 

  2. Than which there can be few tighter groupings, although it is more of a comradeship than a community. 

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