I have now been living in “the valley” for about two months.
Two months and two third Thursday’s on Tujunga avenue.
A handful of weeknights off work to go to a little neighborhood dive to sing “Crazy” by Patsy Cline on a karaoke night.
I have now tried a good number of the little restaurants on my street. I’ve listened to live music just a few blocks from my apartment. I’ve sat outside underneath the string lights on a warm summer night at Aroma cafe. I’ve tasted local plum sorbet from a new ice cream shop on the corner, with plum sorbet melting down my fingers and onto my shirt. I have walked and worked and driven and had to do uncountable u-turns.
I suppose in the process, I have lived and grown. I am now transitioning into the point where this life in Los Angeles is beginning to feel real. To sink in. The moments where I can stumble into a place hopelessly confused and claim that I have just arrived is beginning to fade away.
At what point does your new home begin to feel like home?
Is it when you finally have a neighborhood grocery store where someone recognizes your face? Is it having a church that you go to each week? Is it having a go to coffee shop to get a latte and and sit and read without feeling like a tourist?
I think in a way, it’s all of these things.
But to truly begin to feel at home in a new place, there is a much deeper element to it. A non surface manifestation of belonging.
A soul recognizing another soul just as it is found in that moment, even if it is an outsider.
I think in layman’s terms it would be summed up to one word: COMMUNITY.
There are undoubtedly days, nights, and particular moments where I feel very much on the outside looking in to a foreign way of thought, life, and atmosphere. Who knew that just across the country, two places could be so vastly different in so many ways.
The way of speaking is different in LA.
The air is different.
The way that people dress. (or don’t dress).
The way that people react when you mention God.
The way that the sun feels through your car window.
The feeling of salt on your skin when you go to the beach.
How do you define community?
It can be walking into a crowded room and not feeling alone.
It can be walking walking into a crowded room alone, and feeling ok with that.
Because the people around you feel that way too.
One particular moment to share in which I felt a true sense of community would be last Saturday when I went to the Toluca Lake Farmer’s Market.
I had been to the market several times. The first time that I ever went, a particular vendor selling the most beautiful California almonds and raisins took the time to say hello. After a bit of talking, he knew that I was an Arkansas native and I knew that he was a native Angelino. As I walked away that day, Rich ran after me and told me something that I will never forget. He told me that the market vendors who met each week to hold that small Toluca Lake Market had become like family and that if I wanted, I was welcome to be part of it. He said that he was having a barbeque for all of his fellow vendors and to celebrate his birthday the following week and that I was more than welcome to come by.
I looked into his eyes, really searching them. And there at the market that day, I experience a true act of the purest form of kindness, the kind that asks nothing in return.
I did return, however. Rich and many of the other market vendors had laid out a huge spread of wonderful things. There was fresh watermelon, sandwiches, and potato salad. A woman who sold beautiful stones and jewelry brought “cotton candy” grapes. They were the sweetest grapes I have ever put in my mouth! Rich himself had marinated and grilled the most delicious chicken and made fresh skewers of grilled vegetables with steak. There was fresh and spicy salsa, sold there at the market and locally made. The woman who sold the jewlery also brought two tres leches cakes for Rich’s birthday. After most of us had enjoyed a plate of food, we all gathered around the white plastic table and lit a candle to sing.
There was so much good food and so much happiness and warmth that day. The weather in itself accounted for that. It was one of the hottest days I have experienced so moving to California. The black asphalt almost seemed as though it were steaming and radiating heat. It was one of those perfect afternoon’s though, the kind that stick with you in your memory forever. It didn’t matter that everyone was around the table with sweat causing their shirts to stick to their back. It was a day to celebrate Rich, and the celebration of sharing. Everyone there seemed to be involved .A vendor who sold vegetables brought over a bag of his most gorgeous tomatoes and peppers and plums while another vendor freely handed over a massive pile of the ripest and sweet plums, nectarines, and peaches that you could imagine. Plates were handed out and filled with joy for the sake of sharing good food and good company. The air felt stagnant and hot, but the atmosphere of relationship and giving was so incredibly refreshing.
Two lovely ladies who had a booth on the end selling the most beautiful wreathes with butterflies placed one on my head, telling me that the red of the butterfly suited me. She placed the flower crown on my head, something that was made with not little effort yet given so freely. I looked up at her feeling like a fairy queen.
All that I was that day was present and grateful yet somehow, good created good. Rich generously heaped grapes into a bag for me to take home. The produce vendor refused my dollars and told me to pick whatever I wanted from his table. The vendor selling the sweetest California strawberries imaginable scooped up a carton and slipped them into a plastic bag. He handed me the bag with smiling eyes as though I had asked for them. There were leftover sunflowers that Rich placed in a bouquet for me to match my fairy crown. These are things that I know do not “just happen” and there was nothing that I did or said to spur their deserving.
I had baked an apple cake earlier that week and brought two left over pieces for Rich to try. Standing there with my little brown paper bag; carrying my two small pieces of cake wrapped in foil, I felt so inadequate. There was not enough to share with everyone. I came to the market that day nearly empty handed with no idea of what I would receive.. And it hadn’t mattered that I had nothing to share because the day wasn’t about a physical exchange. It was an exchange of togetherness and of life.
I had been treated as one of them and shared with so effortlessly. My heart felt in that moment as though it could overflow with the beauty of that kind of kindness. There was an unrefined purity to that kind of goodness and acceptance, even to a new girl on the block, that I hoped to share with others.
That day at the market overwhelmed me with the lesson I had learned.
Community is not always something that you search for or pay your dues to obtain. In a city that can place so much pressure on who you know; I found myself completely welcomed by a group of people who accepted me without asking a single question. And that, is what I am discovering, what true community is really about.
Good creates good, and that is truly beautiful.
Peace and love,
(Please check out Caroline’s beautiful creations on her Instagram @junebloomfloral)