An Experience in Sharing Everything

Christian Socialism: Impossible Ideal or Practical Reality?

 

Video transcript:

LAURA
Hi everyone! I’m jumping in on this series Maureen and Rich have been doing on Christian Socialism for a conversation with Rich about a practical example from our life on the Bruderhof that I think is especially relevant now. The crisis we’re in has put a spotlight on many existing inequalities and injustices that socialistic ideas seek to address. One of them is how our society treats the elderly.

RICHARD
Right. Of the many tragic things we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic, the isolation of the elderly in nursing homes and assisted living facilities as the virus rampages is among the most depressing. Folks who have lived full lives and contributed so much face the end of their lives in loneliness.

LAURA
The way our society has treated its older people – separating them from the rest of us – has always been bad, unnatural even, but it’s awfulness is particularly apparent now. It doesn’t have to be like that though, as Rich will tell you.

RICHARD
One of the many things that life in community allows for is the continued integration of older members. When I joined the Bruderhof one of my assignments was to move next to an older couple, John and Gwen, who were in their eighties, as John sometimes needed help at odd hours. Both of them had joined the Bruderhof as young people – John had been an insurance broker for Lloyds of London and Gwen a teacher from Florida – and they’d later married. They had never had children.

LAURA
I remember John and Gwen very well. John had this amazing laugh – really more of a guffaw – and he was always extremely outgoing and jovial. He was also a pretty gifted comic actor and I always looked forward to when he’d get on stage and perform at community functions.

RICHARD
Yeah while I was living next to them we did an excerpt from A Midsummer’s Night Dream that he starred in. I think I have a picture of it somewhere.

LAURA
Another classic was his rendition of that poem “Lochinvar” by Sir Walter Scott, which ended with him and Gwen riding out on a stick horse.

RICHARD
Anyway my assignment basically involved showing up at their house around 9 p.m., having a glass of Port with them, and then being on call in a nearby room if he needed me during the night, which was usually a couple of times.

So then when Roxanne and I were married, we were asked to be a family with John and Gwen. And this, by the way, is a pretty common arrangement on the Bruderhof. What it meant is we made them breakfast, got them where they needed to go during the day, and hung out with them in the evenings. Often we’d have other folks over for stories or conversation. Since John and Gwen had no relatives on the community and had never had children they really enjoyed having us around and vice versa.

Not long after we moved next to them I got a call at work that John had fallen. Seems he had a stroke. I took care of him at home for the next week (I have a nursing background) with the help of other community members and daily visits from his doctor. He died a week after his fall, and supporting Gwen through the following days and the funeral was very memorable.

We carried on taking care of Gwen for the next two years. We’d have breakfast with her every morning. Roxanne would take her where she needed to go during the day and then in the evenings we’d sit around together until she went to bed around 9 p.m. Quaker midnight she called it. On weekends we’d often take a car and drive for hours in the Catskill mountains, including a diner stop for coconut fried shrimp and classic coke. She was tremendously excited when our daughter Frida was born as she had never had children and enjoyed every stage of Frida’s development. During the time we were expecting our second child another couple took on her care so we were no longer living next to her, but she remained part of our family joining us for a meal once a week.

LAURA
It’s not precisely everyone’s idea of young married life. I mean, there must have been aspects of it that were a drag.

RICHARD
Yeah I guess there were times on the weekends or in the evenings where Roxanne and I would have enjoyed going out alone but in general it was extremely rewarding. When you’re first married, those are supposed to be your “best years” where you don’t have a ton of responsibility and you have plenty of energy to pursue your interests. But I think if you say you believe in equality and justice it’s going to mean giving up the ability to do whatever you want when you’re young. Good health and energy are not equally distributed, and those who have need to be willing to give of their time and resources to folks who have less.

LAURA
It’s easy to be for equality and justice when it doesn’t cost you anything or get in the way of your goals and ambitions. That’s probably the biggest hurdle to creating a just society – the idea that my wants and wishes are the most important. Once you’ve done away with that notion it’s a lot easier to be available for the needs of others and find fulfillment and validation in that.

RICHARD
Most likely anywhere else John and Gwen would have been in an assisted living facility or nursing home for the last years of their lives and would have been separated during John’s illness. As it was they lived in the same room almost until the night he died. They were as much a part of the community as anyone else. When people talk about quality of life I think this is what it is. It’s not about monetary wealth. I know folks in their 80s who have plenty of money and real estate but no one in their corner. That’s not the way I would want to go out.

LAURA
Nor I. Maybe one of your kids will come take care of me when I’m old. Next video Rich and Maureen are going to talk about resources you might find valuable if you want to learn more about Christian Socialism.