“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” -Kurt Vonnegut
Community is one of the values of living in America that has been shortchanged in our digital revolution. It’s demise began as our historic family structures have become dismantled as part of the no-fault divorce era. This destruction of our intimate units, where fewer meals are prepared and shared together and more kids are left alone for longer periods of time, has been mirrored in the traditional places where we have exchanged small talk and created neighborhoods. As our daily physical connections to each other have waned in favor of our virtual connectivity we have become confused even about what it feels like to belong to something larger than ourselves.
A few years ago, our community shared a terrible tragedy that was met with the most powerful community response I have ever witnessed. Loss brings out the best in us often; our hearts are cracked open and we want to give something, we need to show up to express our feelings and connect to the whole. You see this in the amazing generosity towards the Sandy Hook community. They got enough teddy bears for each kid in the state to have something to hold. This is a true reflection of what it means to be human.
More challenging is how to keep this community intention thriving after the immediate tragedy. Too quickly we slip back into our routines as though life is restored. But we all lose something when we pull away. The kids at the high school wanted the attention they were getting to continue, which is where I stepped in. I believed that by giving people a vehicle to contribute and a reason to connect they would continue to show up. This has proven to be a more challenging proposition.
On the whole, we are not a culture of volunteers. Not surprisingly, where the majority of this behavior is generated is within the church communities. When a local church came to help strengthen our efforts, it made me re-think church membership. I had never met a more willing group of people that both inspired us and taught us how community works. Mostly what I learned when they were offering their help is that community is a living thing that grows and wanes, always reconfiguring itself.
To stay with the work of community building, you can’t allow yourself the luxury of questioning what it looks like. It is too easy to call a low turnout a bad result. The key is to resist any judgment at all. This is an ongoing lesson, of letting things be as they are and calling it all good. This is, after all, the heart of belonging to a community.