When I moved to Florida, it struck me that people seemed to be nicer here than in other places I lived. I thought maybe it was a Southern thing. People were more polite, friendlier, and pleasant. The general attitude just seemed to be warmer than in California. I have friends in California that are very, very close to my heart. These people have shown me critical kindness, sincere love, and absolute warmth. This is my experience of individuals and I would never say that specific individuals on one coast or another are nicer. The acceptable standard operating procedure for relating to others in Florida, though, seems to be a smidge higher on the niceness scale.
When I’ve stated this theory to friends, they tend to disagree. They tell me that they think what I’ve observed about the niceness of people in Florida just has to do with living in a small town. My town in Florida has a population of about 23,000 people. While that is much smaller than the population of the sprawling metropolis in which I resided in the Golden State, it hardly strikes me as a tiny town. Besides, I’ve visited small towns before. I do think the people tend to be friendlier and more connected to each other, but I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that they were particularly kind to your average, garden variety interloper.
I think I’ve figured out what it is. I think it is community.
I’m not sure I’ve actually lived in community as an adult before moving to Florida. I always lived in apartment or condo complexes when I lived in California. Neighbors typically didn’t even know each other’s names. Amazingly, you could live adjacent to someone, separated only be a wall, and never even speak to that person. I didn’t have children, so I never developed a network of neighbors, school volunteers, or other parent-related groups. I worshiped as a Roman Catholic, in huge congregations. These congregations seemed to connect on Sunday mornings and then disengage back into the mainstream with no residual tie to each other. The sign of peace usually meant nodding to your immediate pew neighbor and avoiding touch. The isolated structure of my environment did nothing to overcome my basic shyness. It is a bit tortuous for me to interact with people I don’t know when they make the first move. There is no way on God’s green earth that I would be the one breaking down the social barriers to create community.
If I did have a community, it was my workplace. I made most of my friends at work and they were very important to me. I have been retired almost five years and I am still close to many of these community members. In some ways, my workplace did seem like community. The people with whom I inhabited my career are like family. I knew their struggles and their triumphs. I knew who was good at what and what challenges I could expect when interacting with each person. There was a sort of forgiveness of foibles that happens with people you know and love.
On the other hand, considering your workplace to be your community might not be the healthiest perspective. I was lucky in my colleagues, but it would be naïve to think that everyone in the workplace community is free of personal agendas and defenses. After all, there is much more at stake in the workplace community than in a neighborhood. Getting along may not always serve a colleague’s purposes. As I said, I was blessed with absolutely wonderful, supportive colleagues and superiors, but it can be dicey to perceive a coworker through the same lens as a neighbor. Also, if one looks at the workplace as the community, it is sometimes harder to disengage from the work situation. Burnout can be more of a factor. If workplace is “community,” is it also “home?” If so, how do you “go home and leave the troubles of the day behind you?”
In Florida, I live in a subdivision, a distinct neighborhood. I do know my close neighbors and I also know a fairly large circle of other folks who live in the community. The subdivision has activities and I participate in some of them some of the time. People seem to enjoy crocheting a cozy afghan of connections with those who share their neighborhood. The afghan consists of different kinds of stitches, some looser than others, and some just barely hanging by a shredded piece of yarn, but those connections are there. It doesn’t feel like too much, even to someone like me who is perhaps too easily spooked by too much interaction with too many people. In addition to the warmth, there is respect so the afghan stitches don’t tend to knot and constrain. The pattern is really rather beautiful.
My church in Florida is similar. People talk about “church homes” and “church families,” but I don’t think I ever really understood. Now I get it. My church isn’t tiny, but it certainly seems small and manageable after a lifetime of going to services with 800 other people who changed week to week. The other day, I was thanking a church friend for helping me with something. I gave him a small gift and he seemed truly astonished that I would think his help was any big deal. He said, “It was nothing. You are my sister and I will always help you in any way I can.” That moment was truly one of the most significant experiences of my spiritual life. The passing of the peace in my current church is a “get out of your pew and greet everyone you come across” kind of affair. After a couple of years of attending the Episcopal church, I know many of the other parishioners. I can identify unfamiliar faces and “peace” the people who may be new to the congregation. I see the facets of community I saw in the workplace- everyone has different blessings and everyone has different broken, rough places in their personalities and competencies. I love all of them with the gratitude, forgiveness and tolerance that comes from being family.
This journey has taught me something about retirement. If you, like me, had a workplace that was your community- maybe your only community- you may find it helpful to actively search for a way of connecting in a communal kind of way in your post-career life. It is great to feel connected with the cozy “niceness” that is community. It is pretty freeing to feel that connection in a way that is not conditional upon the vagaries of the workplace. I think finding that community may have been the best part of moving to Florida for me. For me, nice matters. It matters a lot.
Have you experienced “community” differently since you retired? In what way? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a NICE day!