“Community comes in all shapes and sizes”....yadah yadah yadah….come on for God’s sake! Only twelve more minutes of this crap! Who cares anyway? Lydia slumps down in her seat hoping never to be called upon for thoughts or answers as the teacher drones on about community! Now only ten more minutes! The last week of school and early summer warmth has the kids restless to be done with this whole boring unnecessary crap.
Miss Harper, or Harpy as we call her, has ended her talk about community. Thank God for small favors Lydia mumbles under her breath but loud enough for other students to hear. This produces a ripple of snickers and giggles spreading outward from Lydia’s approximate location. Doodling hearts with faces on them, on her notebook, she is just killing time.
Suddenly, her head snaps up, wait, what was that? She heard her name! Listen Up Lydia, something is happening!
Harpy is looking directly at her...she has said something to Lydia but she missed it, what is going on?
Miss Harper to Lydia….”And so Lydia, do you have any questions?”
Lydia exclaims, “Of course I have questions, I missed what you said, Repeat please!”
Miss Harper to Lydia…”You have missed what I have had to say for the whole term, if I embarrass you, I am sorry, but you have been unkind to me too, making funny comments and being a distraction to the other students while I lecture!” “First, I wish you to recognize and understand this is NOT a punishment, it is a true OPPORTUNITY! An opportunity for you to do extra work this last week of school. If you give it true effort, I will reward you with an “A”, this will bring up your average so you will be able to graduate with your class, just barely but THINK HARD Lydia...to be done and to graduate!”
Lydia feels the color rise in her cheeks, most of the kids know she is failing but this was OUT LOUD for God’s sake.
“So what is this EXTRA work?” “Just in case I decide to try to do it?” Lydia sneers with her usual chip on her shoulder attitude.
“See me after class, we can talk then”. “Thank you class, you are dismissed”
All the kids file out, most thinking it was about time someone taught Lydia some manners.
Miss Harper hands Lydia a folder...across the front written in bold marker a single word…..COMMUNITY….her only words…”you go out there, talk to folks, friends, neighbors, anyone you wish, but on Friday, I will read your words to the class, unless you wish to, but one thing is certain, community means many different things, you go find them all!” “Good Luck!”
Finally the day arrived, the last Friday, end of the week and end of the school year. I didn’t want to dress up or try to be anything special but I did feel something different about myself. For once I felt hopeful this is what Miss Harper wanted from me.
Standing in front of the class was creepy enough but I tried to stand up straight and ignore the faces and attempts at making me laugh...just begin. It is all written down!
I know I will not be very good at this! I have never tried to think anything totally through before except what shoes to wear with what skirt or dress! I was thinking the answers would all be the same, but they weren’t! It is rather like looking at my grandmother's patchwork quilt. Some pieces are small and common and other pieces are big and colorful. That is how it was to talk to folks. It was strange at first but I got the hang of how to ask them, you know, so they wouldn’t just blow me off, shoo me away like a fly!
The guy from the filling station said….community?....well those are my customers, some have been coming here for twenty-five years. They allow me to make a living, and I keep them mobile, they are my community.
The old neighbor lady down my block, she was really quite sure that her community was everyone on her block but not as far away as fifth street!
The lady from the bakery was sure of her community too….it was, of course, her church and church groups as they are all good people and they do good works.
Just for laughs I thought I’d ask “the geek “. You all probably know who I mean and yes he had a quick answer too….I’m not sure I understand it, but I hope Miss Harper might explain this one...he said…”Our human-ness can be the basis of community.... We do not need to have other things in common, if we can recognize one another's humanity. “. Hmmm? I would like to know about this!
I ran into our principal at the drug store so I asked him too...it seems like he must have heard about this as he gave me this long answer without too much thought.
Even community in the "location-based" sense is based upon having common interests or inter-dependencies. Whether we share a house, a street, a village, hobby or professional interest- it is that commonality which is the basis of community. Even if we disagree on some points, if we have enough commonality then it can support a sense of community. Some issues can be so divisive that our sense of community can be completely eclipsed by the emotion of the disagreement. It is important to remind ourselves of what we have in common and make room for our differences, or else the sense of community can fail.
Many answers were similar. Beginning with location as community in a physical way. But many went on to add other parts, other things, I found old Mrs. King in the cemetery on her knees pulling weeds from the gravestones of her husband and son. Her answer was something I hadn’t thought about, she said…”Community is Veterans Day and Fourth of July, parades and coming together to remember past days and honor lost friendships, lost loved ones, pride in country. Community at it’s best!”
I decided to ask someone young to see if they had different ideas of community.
I promised him I wouldn’t say his name but he is a cool guy, he said, “A group of people living in the same area that can trust and respect each other. People connected by the feeling of being able to depend on one another...I’ve got your back. Maybe even share efforts to obtain a mutual goal, to get something done, like a clean up a road of litter or a creek of rubbish dumped there.
Some answers were short...very short…”Community? I think if one has it, its very comforting.
I talked to a farmer sitting in the shade eating his lunch, he said “Community would be an area of people living in a span of a few miles. The members of this community can go back several generations in many cases. They live in similar situations and have similar goals and are known to work together to achieve those at times. He went on and on about the old days when community was really community, barn raisings and sewing bees and bringing food to families when the Mother was sick. It was all very interesting but I needed to go. I think he was still talking about community when I pedaled away.
Finally, I’ve saved this story for last as I think I finally get it. It isn’t just one thing but caring must be a component for it to be community...you must share a common caring about things!
This answer is from a nurse at the hospital….it is a bit long but so telling.
Her experience with community changed with experiences through the years. Initially small and focused on family and then small rural neighborhood and later expanded to a large suburban high school. Community can encompass large groups or small groups if you are connected. Nursing school shifted things again the next year with students living together 24/7 in a dorm, shared classrooms and clinical study. Mixes of students from rural, suburban and city, ethnic, racial, diverse in every way, so very diverse as well as views from all over the world. But even with this mixed salad of people we were definitely community. COMMUNITY IS THE GLUE THAT BINDS US TOGETHER! If you look closely, you will see a root word in community is UNITY!
I’m not sure if this is what Miss Harper had in mind but I did try hard and in trying I think found a new understanding. It is more than geographic it has at its base mutual caring! This school is community and by caring Miss Harper helped me graduate….I HOPE,