“The past is a foreign country,” author L.P. Hartley famously wrote in his book The Go-Between. Perhaps that’s why we hold on to the postcards…
From the moment I arrived in Topanga Canyon at the age of 28, and lived in a beautiful yurt on the Saltzman’s property on Valley View, I was Home. And I admit—a little out of my comfort zone. Though in the appropriate age bracket, I had somehow managed to escape being an active part of the “hippie” movement while in college on the east coast. Yet, I found myself living in the heart of what my friends referred to as “hippy dippy Topanga”, in close proximity to Elysium Fields, a nudist camp, which—to my great surprise—many of my new neighbors frequented . . . sans clothing. While I had progressive views in my heart of hearts, I was a conservative soul in my new environment —managing to visit Elysium only once, fully clothed.
I noticed very early on that people did things a little differently here in the Canyon. They talked about issues I hadn’t heard others discuss and spoke to each other in ways I had not experienced prior. Many Topangans operated outside of the proverbial “nine dots.” They appeared to connect those dots, to make conscious choices based on discussion, fact, consensus, and yes . . . feelings! They appeared to genuinely care about others! They honored the wildlife of all sizes, they were among the first to recycle, they organized for their neighbors’ needs and the day laborers, made signs and stood on the boulevard to draw attention to pressing issues—to bring about necessary change, to challenge the status quo. They carried critters out of their homes who had wandered in rather than exterminating them.
While I know there are other places comparable to our beautiful Topanga Oasis—where this type of activism exists—there is no denying the Heart of Topanga. It beats strong. It is palpable. As a Topanga newbie, I experienced that strong beating Heart immediately. Topanga is a magnificent expression of the Beloved Community—a community that honors the dignity and worth of every individual, a community that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King visioned and spoke about on many occasions.
I know we Topangans don’t agree all the time—we are a widely diverse group of people, ethnically, racially, politically and economically varied, multi-generational—yet the urge to “serve” seems to be a dominant force among us. We seem to have taken to heart Dr. King’s words: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
It is true, some residents step more easily into that “service” and its deep-rooted Love, than others, but I believe what keeps our Heart beating strong is the close connections to other people that are birthed when we each make conscious choices to be of service – choices that bring us back to the Love, choices that honor the dignity and worth of every individual and every furry critter. Here, in Topanga, more than in any other community in which I have lived throughout the U.S., I have experienced a much deeper willingness of individuals and groups to step into that connectedness—that Love—and to resolve issues responsibly and respectfully—at times not an easy task.
All the mainstream religions and Sacred Traditions of the world have “Love” at their heart. Figuring out how to “do” that “love” can be a tricky maneuver. I stand in awe of the model that this community has taught me as a means of learning how to “do” and “be” Love, and experience It in its elegant simplicity. While I know I personally fall short on a daily basis in regard to this call to action, I know I am a better person for having lived here and having my Body and Soul fed and nurtured by Topanga.
Being called daily to account for our collective humanity, I am clear where my intention lies. It lies in a commitment to live in the inquiry of how to release the fear, how to step into the Love, to become more and more connected on a daily basis—to be an active part of creating the Beloved Community. The very nature of Topanga is that call to action. Being a part of this community has brought healing to me personally and has nurtured my passion for Peace – for Social Justice – for creating a world that works for everyone, with no one left out. And it has birthed me into and uplifted the work that I do as the Director of Common Peace, Center for the Advancement of Nonviolence, and the annual Season for Nonviolence—the 64-day nonviolence campaign that takes place every year between the death dates of Mahatma Gandhi (January 30) and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4).
While Topanga may no longer be the “hippy dippy” community of the 60s – we have transformed and will continue to transform into an ever-expanding Loving Expression of the Beloved Community. Our Topanga Heart is beating strong!
Candace Sofia Aida Carnicelli is an actress/singer/dancer/peace activist and nonviolence practitioner who has performed (and protested) in numerous theatres, streets and venues throughout the U.S. Her film credits include “Under Fire” and “Error in Judgment.” In 2018 Candace premiered “Not In Our Name!” at the Son of Semele Theatre Festival in L.A. She has performed at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, the Pittsburgh Experiential Theatre, Barter Theatre and in various musical theatre productions throughout the U.S. Candace joined Common Peace, Center for the Advancement of Nonviolence as a volunteer during Arun Gandhi’s first Season for Nonviolence in 1998, and became its Executive Director in 2007. Learn more at www.commonpeace.org