Straying from the usual content of this blog, I've decided to take a risk and write about something not directly related to the making of music or the telling of a story. Its been on my mind for a while now, this idea of community. Actually, its been on my mind for years, but I feel as if there's been some type of epiphanic climax as of late.
I've been chasing after community for a long, long time. I've experienced it before, and I always knew I would know it when I saw it again, but I've been doubtful that it could even happen anymore. People's lives have become too hurried, too skeptical, too individualist, and too critical (mine included) - characteristics antithetical to real community.
There is an antique picture hanging in my dining room of an old traditional church with people gathered around posing. The men are hanging out of the bell steeple making it appear as if the church is overflowing. I found the picture at an antique sale and was drawn to its story. Often, when I'm at the table, I imagine the lives of these people from so long ago.
I image that this was a farming community - probably a pretty safe bet. Their weekdays were filled with work. Tending livestock, milking cows, cleaning barns, putting up hay, cooking, cleaning, sewing, baking, planting fields, harvesting - really, really hard back-breaking, stressful, depend-on-the-weather-and-God type of work. I image the people, wearied from their labor, anticipated their time together on Sundays. That this church building became more than a place to worship, but a place to gather, to rest, to come together in fellowship and community. I image that during the week - when someone was in need of comfort, or a new baby was born or someone was sick - a neighbor lent a helping and supportive hand even if it cost them time and money. Or, maybe a bachelor was lonely and found joy spending an evening with the family nearest his place - savoring family life though he had none of his own.
Then, I image the messiness of it all - also a pretty safe bet. Perhaps they argued over things like whether they should white wash the church or actually paint it white. Maybe there was a grumpy old man that complained about everything and yelled at children. Maybe there was a scandal because of an affair. Maybe they argued whether to buy an organ. Maybe they ignored the family that had a child with special needs. Or, maybe no one liked the pastor's sermons and they formed a committee to confront him.
Regardless of which scenario (or both) is true, what I see in this picture is an absolute sticktoitiveness to each other and to the community. Community wasn't the goal (though it was certainly an outcome), survival was the goal and survival took more than what they could do on their own. It took a community. They needed each other. Period.
Do we need each other anymore? Or, maybe a better questions is, do we realize that we need each other? Perhaps on a macro level - we still need farmers to produce food, people to build houses, governments to provide infrastructure, defense, law and order, etc. However, on a micro level has our need for togetherness been taught away by the American ethic of independence and self-sufficiency?
But, I long for that deep sense of community. People committed to each other come hell or high water. People willing to give though it costs them something in the giving. People willing to work together despite differences and backgrounds. People who love without condition. People who realize they need each other. I see this happening, really, I do, but its the exception rather than the norm.
Then I have to face the reality that I can't live up to this. Who can? Who has that sort of energy or enthusiasm? Sure. We can be supportive, maybe even get together, or even throw in a meal here or there, but how in the world are we supposed to commit to each other to the extent that it costs us time, money or energy. Most of us live with just enough margin to keep reserves for ourselves and our families (if that). There is nothing left over to invest into something greater than ourselves. Or, maybe we're just selfish. That one's hard to admit.
Do you long for community, a tribe, a people, a collective?
What does community mean to you?
I have some ideas on what it means to be a community in this modern age, but I'd love to hear from you! I'll share my thoughts in Pt. 2....