a : a unified body of individuals: as state, commonwealth
b : the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly : the area itself <the problems of a large community>
c : an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location
d : a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society <a community of retired persons>
e : a group linked by a common policy
f : a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests <the international community>
g : a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society <the academic community>
2: society at large
a : joint ownership or participation <community of goods>
b : common character : likeness <community of interests>
c : social activity : fellowship
d : a social state or condition”
I was out for a run by myself the other afternoon. It was quite warm, late afternoon, and commute time. I chose to run along the shoulder of a fairly busy road, here in Napa, one that connects my neighborhood to the downtown area. As I returned home, I headed up what may seem to most, a very small hill in the neighborhood, the last little hill, but after seven miles pounding the hard, hot, blacktop, it has become an incredibly long and daunting proposition. I generally stop running at the top of the little hill, turn off all my tracking, mapping, pacing, locating, GPS systems (I use three in all, geek that I am). I then walk across the footbridge from the shiny, new more expensive neighborhood to my own, much older, somewhat worn, more comfortable neighborhood. There, at what was the dead end until just recently when the footbridge connecting the two neighborhoods was built, is “the pool”. And it looked so inviting.
When we first moved to this neighborhood, back when it was the shiny, new, expensive neighborhood, in the mid 1960’s, this spot where the pool is now, was just another empty lot. Homes were built on most of the lots, with bare patches of fields between building phases, all, eventually, filled with houses. This was our community, a new neighborhood perched on the far edge of town, where only homes and a school grew in a field alongside fields of cows and sheep. Not a vineyard in sight. There were plentiful oak trees to climb and hang tree swings in. After the first few summers and a few uncomfortable lessons, though, we learned to recognize poison oak and where NOT to hang the tree swings. This was an era where, for the most part, young families moved into new neighborhoods and stayed for many, many years. Families became friends and a strong sense of community existed that transcended time and even the eventual “moving away” of many of the original families. This core group of families visited nearly daily. It was not uncommon for all the neighbors on the block to gather on one another’s front porch steps to visit after work. Highballs and cigarettes, for the adults, while the kids played hide and go seek nearby. Idyllic suburbia. Community.
It was this group of adults, my parents, the neighbors, on the steps, laughing, drinking, some, most, smoking, that decided to collaborate and purchase that lot at the end of the street, the edge of our universe, as we knew it. I was four years old. I couldn’t imagine what existed beyond that lot, the creek dividing US from the rest of the world. I could only see cows on the other side through the trees. Now there are houses. On this lot was built a large swimming pool, larger than any of our generous sized yards would accommodate. I’m not entirely sure how the money was collected, allocated, organized or accounted for. Mom hasn’t quite got around to that story during our shared mealtime. But it was done. Memberships were sold to generate revenue, I assume, to pay for the pool, or the loan for the pool, the property and to maintain it. A governing board was established, on which my mother served, as I remember, for a term or two. A lifeguard was hired every summer to teach lessons in the morning and to supervise all of us, without our parents, every afternoon between 1:00 and 5:00 PM. That was my mom’s duty as a board member. I remember her interviewing various young candidates in the living room. I remember that she took a class on how to recognize whether young people were imbibing in marijuana use. She didn’t want to hire a “druggy” as a lifeguard. The kids all loved the lifeguard, like an idol. We swam every, single day, every allowable moment. And more. Swimming when the lifeguard wasn’t on duty had to be supervised by some parent or adult. I think they drew straws.
This community, an active community, developed out of the desire of a group of people to create something together they would have difficulty doing on their own. They were joined out of their goals, their friendships, their fellowship and their ideas. Together, they created something wonderful that was played a very large role in the childhood of many, many young people. That accomplishment, over forty years later, continues to thrive and provide more and more generations of young people with memories, skills, fun and friendship. The power of an active community.
We have since sold our membership and I understand the waiting list to obtain one is several years long. So, hot and sweaty, I walked past the pool, home, and took a cool shower instead. But, to me, this pool is proof of the power of community. This pool was such an anchor in my childhood, too. I cannot imagine, at all, what life would have been without it. My friends were all there, everyday, all summer, every summer. And any friends that didn’t “belong”, could come along as a guest, so it really didn’t matter. I took all my swimming lessons there. As a teen, once I was old enough to go “after hours”, without a parent, we did just that. It was at this pool that I smoked my first cigarette. It was at this pool that I drank my first adult beverage. It was at this pool that I discovered I could do daring and scary things, like jump off the roof of the bathroom into the pool. And live.
I have moved back to the neighborhood I grew up in. The community. My mom is among only a few of the “original” neighbors left. Most have moved away, many have passed away. I know far fewer people here than I did as a kid. We still refer to all the houses by the original owners’ names, though. The Mann’s house, the Hosman’s house, the Price’s house. The houses don’t have addresses or house numbers, they have surnames.
Before moving back here, I lived in a “newer” neighborhood, but they called it a “planned unit development”. It was nice. Well planned. I lived there with my son, in a house he rented with his high school friends who all moved on, leaving him alone with the lease payment and a couple of extra bedrooms. So I moved in. There was a fabulous “clubhouse” in this neighborhood that we “belonged” to by the fact that we were residents. We had only to prove so with a copy of our lease and a letter from our landlord. Two pools, a Jacuzzi pool, a gym, television rooms, game rooms, tennis courts, basketball courts, free Wi-Fi, meeting rooms, library rooms, a kitchen, a large grassy area. It was built by the developer, not by the neighbors, and while it was wonderful, it lacked that sense of community I remember from “the pool”. The neighbors here, were not in community other than sharing the same roadways to and from work, and the shared gardening service provided for in the required association dues. No one spoke to one another, no one visited, no one could even identify their next-door neighbor in a line up, if they had to. The front yards are smaller than my mom’s porch steps. It was strange. You could often walk down the street, encounter someone along the way, say hello and actually not get a reply. It was sad. Tragic, actually. This was a “passive community”, we were community only out of circumstance, not because we shared a goal or wished to collaborate to do something more.
I’ve lived in other neighborhoods in the Sacramento area where the neighbors were neighborly. In one old village I lived in, you couldn’t set foot out the front door without finding yourself in a jolly conversation, an impromptu garden tour, an offer for a beer, a glass of wine, or an iced tea. Many people who grew up here and moved away, would actually move back, at some point, if they could. We used to Christmas carol. We’d all gather at one of the homes, eat and drink and be merry, then take to the streets to sing at the one or two homes that weren’t participating. And often, there, we’d be invited in for a glass of wine or something. It was magical. And this was the neighborhood I raised my kids in for most of their early childhood.
Beyond where we live, though, there are many communities that we are part of. We commune in many ways, in worship, in learning, in sports, in fitness, in recreation, in service to others, in politics, even in what we watch on television, American Idol fans, for example. It is our nature, to commune. And in community, we can prosper, if we seek to. Or in community we can just exist, if we choose to.
Relationships are community, too. A couple, whether married or not, can accomplish more together than as single individuals when both parties contribute. When one party fails to contribute, or in some other way violates or destroys the prosperity of the union, the community ceases to exist.
As individuals, we become stronger in community. In our individual effort to evolve, by aligning with a community, or several communities, we can often meet our goals faster, more efficiently and more effectively, whether fitness goals, spiritual goals, health goals, financial goals, social goals, or even relationship goals, working together will almost always benefit each person individually and the group as a whole. As we evolve into the people we seek to become, we then are able to contribute to our various communities, and to the world, in a more meaningful, purposeful and fulfilling way.
Consider the U.S. Army’s popular double entendre advertising campaign, “An Army of One”. Each soldier, individually, is made strong by being a part of the “community”, the Army, and, in turn, the Army, as one large body, or community, is stronger. This is much as community, of any sort, and the individual relate. As one we are strong because of our community, and because of our strength, our community is stronger. It’s a win win.
Please do not confuse community and my support of, in any way, with communism. Community is only successful because it is voluntary. We seek out and choose to join or belong to a community. If, at some point, we choose to no longer participate, we don’t re-enroll or we resign in some manner. Communism is forced. Even when “chosen” in some form of election, it is often out of some sort of force; duress, coercion, bribery, conspiracy, fear, ignorance, propaganda and/or apathy. Once part of a communist society, it is nearly impossible to choose to no longer participate. In communism, the individual is lost and defiled. In community, the individual is celebrated and exalted.
I have taken up running in the past year. I haven’t been a runner in any way, shape or form since, well, junior high, and that was “forced”. I do remember as a small child, though, running, usually up to the swimming pool, and feeling absolutely liberated, free. In my mid-life I have been longing for the same feeling of liberation and freedom. I decided I’d “learn” to run. I set a goal to run a half marathon, “thirteen by thirteen”, which I have successfully done. Now I’ve adjusted my goal. On advice from a friend I joined a running club, which I speak of often. In that club, a community of many runners, over 500, we are divided into smaller “pace groups” by color and by pace time, matched to our goals and our abilities. Every week, we run with our smaller groups, all the smaller groups running, in staggered clumps, up and down the American River Parkway. Many small communities, all part of a large club or community. All seeking individual goals with the support and assistance of the community. During the week, with much effort, I run alone. It takes a great deal more self-discipline, motivation and sheer will to lace up my shoes and take off on my own. It takes even more self-discipline, motivation and sheer will to go the planned distance, to run the entire time, to just keep going. In the group, it is, by comparison, effortless. But, the coaching, the skill, the lessons I am taught on form, fuel, water, and biomechanics would make what I do on my own much harder, perhaps impossible, and likely detrimental in possibly causing myself an injury. So from community I am improved as an individual. And, as an individual, I contribute to the community.
I spent many years involved in Scouting; Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Venturing Scouts (a co-ed, high adventure program through Boy Scouts of America). I derived a great amount of skill, education, and leadership opportunities through my involvement in these organizations. They improved my skills as a parent, as a professional, as a person, in communication, event planning and organization, fitness, health, safety, self-esteem, and friendship. And through my involvement, dozens of youth who may not otherwise have ever been able to participate in such excellent programs, were given the opportunity. I feel as though I touched many young lives and in some small way, made some positive impact. I gave and I received. Through my involvement in these communities, I saw entire groups of young people grow from kindergarten through college, into fine, fulfilled individuals, and I had some hand in that. Through my involvement with these communities, I too grew into a fine, fulfilled individual, and the community absolutely, provided that opportunity to me.
In our effort to evolve, let’s look not only at our individual opportunities, but also for opportunities in community. If, currently, your effort to evolve is not in some way linked to some community or communities, take the time to identify one, or several, that may benefit from your involvement, and in turn, promote your effort to evolve. We are all in this together. We are ourselves, a community, making an effort to evolve.