Recently, I drove to Atlanta for the wedding of one of my dearest friends. We met in college, and had an almost immediate, unshakeable bond. Have you ever had that happen to you? You meet someone and feel as though something in them has always been a partof your life? Those are the friendships that matter most to me. Deep rooted, honest, sincere. Have you ever thought about how rare they are? And how inexplicably important it is to have those people in your life? The past few years have been such a huge learning experience for me, and if there is one lesson that stands out above the rest it is the importance of a solid community. While sitting at Chipotle a few months ago, I happened to read this short essay by Barbara Kingsolver on my cup* about community. It mattered to me on a very deep level. This is what she said:
TWO-MINUTE CHEER FOR THE HOME TEAM
by BARBARA KINGSOLVER
The ancient human social construct that once was common in this land was called community. We lived among our villagers, depending on them for what we needed. If we had a problem, we did not discuss it over the phone with someone in Mumbai. We went to a neighbor. We acquired food from farmers. We listened to music in groups, in churches or on front porches. We danced. We participated. Even when there was no money in it. Community is our native state. You play hardest for a hometown crowd. You become your best self. You know joy. This is not a guess, there is evidence. The scholars who study social well-being can put it on charts and graphs.
“The happiest people are the ones with the most community.“
In the last 30 years our material wealth has increased in this country, but our self-described happiness has steadily declined. Elsewhere, the people who consider themselves very happy are not in the very poorest nations, as you might guess, nor in the very richest. The winners are Mexico, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the kinds of places we identify with extended family, noisy villages, a lot of dancing. The happiest people are the ones with the most community.
The problem I have encountered over the past few years, however, is that there are people who view the occasional smile, chat, or text as all that is necessary to form said communities. Affection rarely dips beneath that surface-level. Why do we do this? Is it perhaps a product–as many would say–of the digital age? We can easily hide and connect behind a computer screen, but throw us face to face with another human being and we lack the ability to truly connect? Is that it? I know that many would say this–particularly those apt to blame my generation for whining and refusing to take ownership for our actions. And it can be said that, yes for some that might be the case. I don’t have an answer. What I can say, however, is that some of the friends that I connected with at the wedding were people that I have not physically seen in years. We have neither text messaged nor facebooked and yet the moment we were near one another we fell immediately into the paces of yesteryear. Truly enjoying the presence of the other. As I drove home that Sunday afternoon my heart was light, but the closer I drew to the town I’d called home for the past few years I felt an ever growing sadness. A bit like Eeyore’s rain cloud, really. This feeling was something I had only fleetingly witnessed here. I was a part of what many would call a community, but it was never that for me. To me it was a place where one went through the motions, but never actually felt anything. These friends I’d left behind me were people who saw my heart in every circumstance. They allowed me to be wholly myself–never judged and fully loved. They may be were scattered like the wind, but can I tell you how immediately the flew together when a friend of ours tragically died in the fall? I was amazed. I am still amazed. Driving away from them left me with a pang of emptiness that will not be re-filled until we are together again. They are my family. My community. My home. I am not trying to down play the many wonderful people that I have met in the past few years. I have found a few incredible friends that I know will be a part of my heart always. I think what I am trying to say here is that if you are reading this and you cannot relate–if you cannot understand what it feels like to find your heart in a solid group of individuals, please seek them out? Find your own community. You’ll know it when you meet it–and do not let them go. Write them letters. Send them cards. Call them when you can. Your community, like mine, might be scattered like the wind, but it is ever a part of you and it matters so very much. Being around people who know, love, and care for you is part of what makes life so beautiful.
If you haven’t found it already, I am here hoping that you find it soon.