“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” – Dorothy Day
“You can care about people you’ve never even met.” – Killer Mike
There are many debates in many….I’ll call them groups… regarding whether or not we can use the word community to describe that grouping. These days, many affiliations and associations are breaking themselves apart from the general and attempting to figure out how to cluster around a specific. But what specific? And how specific does it need to be?
This process brings up many questions:
What does community mean? Is such and such a community, or not? Who comprises community? Co-religionists? People with common interests? Gender? Racial background? Sexuality? Affiliations? Neighborhood? Economic class? Family?
Does everyone who makes it in the door of community define everyone else in that community? Can we lock people out because we disagree?
No one is quite sure exactly what makes up community, though some of the groupings above are more likely to be named as community than others. But we use the word community a lot to try to describe a link of some sort. A connection. A way of being in the world.
Sometimes we insist there is no community. Even while invoking it. Even while we try to walk away.
Because…There is splintering. Fracturing. Factioning. “The People’s Front of Judea” vs “The Judean People’s Front” to use an old Monty Python reference. People are trying to figure out where they fit in and what they can call home.
I’m sympathetic to those feeling disgruntled with the notion of “community.” I’m also sympathetic to the current trend of things breaking up into component parts. Humans tend to work better in more intimate groupings. It seems to be the way with animals.
I’m sympathetic to those who stay and try to work harder, to fix things, to shore things up, to not let the work of the group just wash away. I’m sympathetic to those who choose to rise to the challenge of necessary change. I also understand those who walk away.
The thing is, no matter what we say, we are all a part of community whether we like it or not. Whether we admit it or not. Whether we agree on what “community” means, or not.
We are all in community because we are all related.
Meaning: we are in relationship with one another.
There’s no escaping it. We crash together and we break apart like atoms. We dance like neurons, or distant stars. We isolate ourselves. We open out again. We hold our wounded hearts or bruised senses of pride. We grow stronger. And then we try again.
Because we must.
Recently I donated a few dollars, nothing much, to the young woman who was attacked by an officer while sitting in her desk at school in Spring Valley High. Usually when I make donations, I don’t bother to comment. This time I did. It felt important to.
In the comment box I wrote:
“Until there is justice…there is far flung community.”
I was trying to name that connection. That sense that we must care for one another. That sense is the glue of community. In that moment, like in so many others, the sense of community felt strong and true.
The long loneliness Dorothy Day knew so well affects us all, at some point or another. Sometimes it is our attempts at making community that cause the long loneliness to rise up, tapping at our shoulder blades, and telling us we should just go home. Alone.
But Day was right. So is Killer Mike. Again and again, it becomes important that we try to reconnect. We might contact a friend. Or go read in a cafe just to be around others. We might attend a festival. Or an organizing meeting. Or church.
We speak out. We help.
We realize we need one another, even in the midst of pain, disillusionment, or dislike. We even need people we’ve never met.
Sometimes I imagine that everything in the cosmos gets a little lonely. But then, I also imagine that something sparks inside a star, reminding it that it is in a wheeling dance of proximity and combustion with other stars. I imagine that there is a being, looking out and seeing our galaxy the way I sometimes gaze upon the moon, with the wonder of being on an object turning slowly in the midst of space.
My community is the entire cosmos in those moments.
But most of the time, my community is the friends with whom I might be arguing, or laughing, or preparing to sit down to dinner with. My community is the shifting, ad hoc group of comrades that show up at meetings, actions, and protests. My community are the folks that keep the soup kitchen running. My community are the people that come together once a month to honor the Gods.
All of these groups have varying levels of intimacy and connection. Some of the people I rely upon to show up are folks I don’t know much about personally, but I do know their integrity in action. We will disagree on some things that are of vital importance to both of us, but the things we do agree upon still bind us together. We recognize this: the work at hand is more important than disagreements about theology or tactics.
Community is the people who show up. But community is not only that.
Community is not only about proximity in body, location, heart, or mind.
Sometimes – fairly often actually – community is made up of anyone who cares enough to spread the word, or send a few dollars. Community is something that says, “We feel you. We hear you. We see you…
We want you to know that you are not alone.”
With that love, that reaching out, comes community.
Whether we stay, or whether we walk away, we affect each other. We are still in this together.
Speaking of community:
This essay was funded by Patreon. Each month, interested readers fund one essay and one piece of short fiction, to be released for free to the public.
I give thanks to Mica, Christine, Vyviane, Katie, Emilie, Louise, Victoria, Greg, Ealasaid, Jennifer, Louise, Rose, Starr, Sinead, Lyssa, Aeptha, Cara, Crystal, Angela, Misha, Eridanus, Cheryl, David, Lori, Soli, Peter, Angela, Ambariel, Sonia, Jennifer, Ruth, Miranda, Jeremy, Jonah, Michelle, Jenny, Jen, Mir, Ruth, Emilie, Jonathan, Kate.
To find out more about Patreon – which funds many musicians, writers, artists – click here.