Creating Community

The door was always open. We would be sitting around the kitchen table, drinking coffee, and someone would walk in. There no strangers – just friends and family keeping us updated on their lives. It might be my aunt. It might be a neighbor. They might stay for an hour, a meal, or only a minute. But, the door was always open. I’m not entirely sure how my grandmother created her own boundaries to get what she needed – but the common trend was that she made her house there for others.

Always being there. Always being generous with food. Always being generous with listening. This was my grandmother, and this is what I will miss most. But, unbeknownst to me, she has wildly affected how I live. My husband sometimes complains (while stating the perplexing catch-22) of my generosity. Together, we keep our home open for friends in need. And, together, we try to be there for our family and our community.

I never thought about defining community in a specific way, until I went to Portland State. In one of the first community development classes I took, we discussed, “What is community?” A few students were arguing with my ad hoc view – they felt that people coming together under a common banner: school, a club, etc., was too narrow a view of community. They also didn’t seem satisfied with a neighborhood definition. I was lost in their academia of specifics, and chose not to argue.

So, what is community then? My grandmother took care of her community of family and friends. I volunteer about the causes I think are most important. My husband offers his handy skills to friends and family in need of mechanical handy skills. We are teaching Levi to pick up after himself to the point that if we don’t pick up litter on the street, he chides us. We take our skills, our abilities, our responsibilities, and we try to model them in the world at large. That’s community.

A friend posted on a local moms’ board about the need of another mom. That is Terri posted about a need that Rhonda had. Rhonda was in the hospital for an undisclosed period of time. Rhonda had a 6 month old baby. Rhonda and her family highly valued breast milk, but was unable to feed her daughter whilst in the hospital. So, Terri, broached the request for breast milk from the mom’s list. The question was answered and the wee babe was fed through shared breast milk from other nursing moms. That’s community.

That’s community, despite the likelihood that all are coming together around a shared topic: support of breastfeeding. I think this breastfeeding example shows the need for shared interests to be included in our definition of community, especially as we consider how we want to create communities in our neighborhoods or workplaces.

We need our communities to be strong so we can take care of one another. My grandmother understood that. She was a natural nurturer, making sure people’s basics needs were met. My friend understands that, she made sure that Rhonda’s need of feeding her child were taken care of so she could get well. We create a bond, strengthening our communities, when we come together over those shared interests and extrapolate beyond. Those shared interests – whether it be the street we live, the knitting circle we share, the blood ties that bind, or whole food values – bring us together to have first conversations. Then, over music, and food, we talk. We listen. We share stories. We share our own human condition with another and hopefully have more understanding to the needs of another. We mature, and we realize that we need to be there for one another in a broad sense to create the bonds that do not come apart.