As I mentioned in my last post, A Life to Share, intimacy among brothers is something for which we all strive, and is something I see already present in my life. What I failed to mention in my last post is that being intimate with a brother and living together are completely different things. Ask any newly married couple having just moved in with one another or best friends from high school that decide to share a dorm room in college: living together places a strain on any relationship, no matter how close.
One of the things that our postulant director has said to us early and often is that the source of conflict in religious houses is not theology or politics: it’s kitchens and bathrooms. Domestic disagreements, he says, over how clean an area should be or who’s responsibility it is to do certain chores, is the source of all household conflict.
So far in my experience of fraternal life I would have to agree. The fact of the matter is that there are no universal standards by which one is expected to live. Because each of us were formed by different people in different settings, we each have different expectations for the way things should be, making it inevitable that conflicts will arise. The way the table should be set, the position of the toilet seat when not in use, the length of time clothes may sit in the washer/dryer, the level of dust/grime/stain/smear that is acceptable before something must be cleaned, and the time allowed to clean one’s dishes, are all examples of issues for which there is no “correct” answer; each of us answers them from our own experience before entering community life, and must attempt to integrate them into one another.
When this is not done effectively, I envision one of two things happening:
The first is that the friary can turn into a college apartment. In this setting, cleaning is only done when it is convenient or one’s threshold of disgust is met, allowing for all lifestyle choices to be acceptable. It’s a “if it bothers you, you can clean it” mentality in which the majority of people feel very comfortable in their surroundings, while those few with the highest demand for cleanliness and order are left with the majority of the responsibilities of the house. This is not a desirable living situation because it does not take into consideration the needs of all, and places an unfair burden on the few.
The opposite extreme is just as likely: in order to make those with the highest demand for cleanliness and order feel comfortable, the other guys in the house are required to maintain a pristine level of living, one that far surpasses their own needs. This method guarantees that no brother will feel uncomfortable or taken advantage of, but it also means that the whole house is at the mercy of a few individuals. This is also not a desirable living situation because it does not facilitate dialog or expect each brother to make sacrifices for the sake of all.
Now before I get myself into trouble, neither of these extremes describes the way in which we live here in Wilmington, though I do see elements of both from time to time (as I did also in college and at home.)
Like any group of people trying to live together, what’s needed most is mutuality. Each person needs to recognize that there are many right ways of doing something, and that at times, it’s not only acceptable, it’s necessary, to live by another’s standards. Sometimes that means being patient and accepting the idiosyncrasies of others, either accepting it the way it is or doing a little more work to have it the desired way, while other times it means finding a respectful way to ask a bit more of a housemate. The truth of the matter is that it is all compromise, but that compromise isn’t so bad if all parties are involved in the decision and are equally looking out for their own benefit and the benefit of the whole community.
As I continue in my journey as a franciscan friar, constantly living in fraternity, I need to recognize that I am just as guilty of annoying my fellow brothers as they are me because we come with different expectations for one another. If I fail to recognize this, and seek to live my own lifestyle at the expense of others, living together is going to be very difficult for us all. On the other hand, if I’m open and dedicated to the life of the fraternity, living together will simply be a means by which we may form and nurture meaningful, intimate relationships for the rest of our lives. I guess ultimately the question is this: do I wish to live individually by my own rules, or do I wish to give up some of my own expectations so as to live together, fraternally?
I choose to live together.