Community– The Essence of the matter!
Community exists in places but is not aplace. It manifests itself in actions but is not an action. It can come from a tribe of ‘same’ but more often is strengthened by difference. Community is channelled through friends as well as sometimes enemies. It is the invisible force that awakens and unleashes itself when it is needed, when something happens, in the face of adversity, when there are jobs to be done. Is it maybe the most pure essence of a place, the collective emotional, physical and spiritual attributes of the people that populate it?
People are to others their stories as played back and narrated by those who tell them and hear them. Without the collection of stories of its people, can a place even exist much less a community?
Strong characters, odd characters, leading roles, bit players, jesters, heroes. Every where has them; the lost souls, the bitter, the stoic and resilient. Some where strange but they weren’t strangers. Some were not loved by everyone but each was loved by someone (once). In these small towns, everyone knows their back story or at least some version of it. Some sad and tragic, some funny, some dramatic but mostly ending in a compassionate “Shur, God love them..” Strong ‘community’ includes everyone, even those on the fringes of it. Community embraces difference and comes from understanding, compassion and inclusivity.
Small town community is commonly portrayed as gossiping stories where small minds talk about people. Stopping in the shop or nursing pints on the bar; whispering voices talking blow-ins, begrudgers and bullshitters, notions and nonsense. And that’s on a good day! Not much community there you’d say. But you’d be so wrong because you should see them on a bad day…
On a bad day, high-vis jackets over funeral overcoats stand in the rain directing traffic. Floating plates of funeral sandwiches, endless pots of tea on china cups are passed rattling on saucers to old and shaking hands. Strangers wonder where the tea towels are kept and if there is more milk for the jug and sugar for the bowl as they take turns washing up and all the while moving from small talk to great stories. They don’t come for the stories but they are there because of them – the same stories they traded in the shop and over the bar yes, but they are the stories that bind us, that create communities.
Where stories are strong community is strong and when the essence of community is unleashed and thickens the air and you can’t help but take it in. It gives energy to efforts. It soothes old wounds long enough to get jobs done. It puts old differences into soft focus when you rub it into tired eyes to keep going. Community has tidied its towns, cleared its roads, shared its fodder, buried its dead, saved hay and saved lives.
No man is an island,
Entire of Itself
Everyman is a piece of the continent
A part of the main,
If a clod bewashed away by the sea
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were
As well as if a manor of thy friends;
Or if thine own were,
Any man’s death diminishes me
Because I am involved in Mankind
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
It tolls for thee.
John Donne, 1624 from Meditation17.
We, people, are the 'matter' from which the essence of a place is derived. Simply being alive is to be involved in mankind. Some people have just short lives, some spend their lives at the fringes, but community is drawn from everyone of a place and indeed it is often those at the fringes that can need it and feel it most acutely. I am sure that one day I will find myself on the fringe ‘of the main’ too, inhaling deeply on the last of the essence before the bell tolls….
“If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less”. Had John Donne in 1624 foreseen Brexit?
1. Community is an invisible energy force that is the ‘essence’ of the matter from which it is derived –that matter is people. It is activated and unleashed when there is something to be done.
2. Where Community is strong, everyone matters. Some are more active agents than others but through stories, no one even those at the fringes, is invisible. Through stories, there is understanding, forgiveness, compassion and inclusion.
3. All places have ‘community’ but not all places have great community. I think the gap is in the silence. Community and communication are intrinsically linked. Where communication is weak, the essence of community is faint.