Community

Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim

The word ‘community’ has been ricocheting around my brain of late. I’ve recently been paying more attention to words that randomly appear and then stay for dinner, and breakfast, and lunch and before you know it, a month passes by and that word is still there waving a reminder. So I decided to see what ‘community’ was trying to tell me. What I should be noticing? How does it apply to other facets of my life?

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Community:

  1. A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
  2. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

The 1970s were a time of co-ops. I lived in large communal houses in downtown Toronto while going to university. It was a way to afford to live in rundown historic homes, on prime real estate, close to the universities, nightlife, and other alternative minded students. There was always a cause to be had, a food group to boycott (because of disenfranchised farm workers), and preferred places to buy our cheeses and other produce. I don’t remember us all being vegetarian, but there definitely was a tendency to make your own food, to ensure it was whole grain, and to explore ethnic traditions – anything to escape the vanilla suburbs of our childhoods.

As I moved from being a student to exploring my chosen professions of early childhood education, early intervention, and employee learning and development, there were professional designations, organizations, and collaborative networks to align oneself with and lead. The causes of my youth morphed into larger more intricate webs of ethics, unions, marches, rallies, public awareness, and professional development. As much as I firmly believe that the development of young children and support to their families is foundational for a healthy society, this has merely garnered lip service from politicians and established diametrically opposed public opinions. While those working with young children now must have more education and experience, their credibility is eroded by a nominal subsistence living wage and their programming considered ‘babysitting’. In fact, young teen babysitters often make more money per hour now than a licensed early learning and care practitioner.

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And yet we are a community. We are a community of humans, making our way in the world, striving to provide families and children with a society that is supportive, respectful, and communal in our care and attention to a healthy lifestyle. Well we say we are but when it comes down to raising a child within the village, we still believe in the nuclear family of the early 1950s. Anyone who made it out of World War II intact gathered together in fabricated enclaves of identical houses on the outskirts of larger metropolises, eating up farmlands to sprawl into shopping malls and manufactured foods, while consuming TV dinners in front of black and white television screens. The McCarthy era cast doubt upon our neighbours and built fences around our hopes. Those of us born at that time, sought ways to give peace a chance, go back to the land, drop-out and sit-in, while loving the ones we were with.

Community has taken on a much more nebulous form for me these days. Perhaps it is why social media outlets like Facebook are so popular with my age group. We can hang out with others by sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals all from the comfort of our postur-pedic office chairs and flat screen computers. We can rant and rave and revolt with the mere click of a mouse and feel connected to a larger network of spiritual awareness. It fills the void and we don’t have to sit on the grass, march on the legislature, or risk viral contamination through group hugs. We just have to count the ‘likes’ and feel all is right with the world, or at least our opinion of it.

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What struck me while I was in hospital was that I was now part of a community of ‘sick people’. I had never before considered myself part of that fraternity. In fact, I smugly perceived myself above such insult by claiming my diet and lifestyle would not only prevent my membership, but if I happened to slip through the cracks, my diet would cure me in record time, so I wouldn’t have to even grace the halls. I’ve learned there is no immunity. There is no vaccine. I haven’t vacated my community of live plant-based proselytizers, but I am much more forgiving and generous in my understanding about dis-ease and one’s ability to heal. It is not relegated to diet alone. That being said, I do believe my lifestyle has supported my recovery in ways that are stronger and more vital than others. For that I am convinced diet and lifestyle does play a role.

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I now find I reside within a new community – one of cancer buddies (so aptly named by a young ‘friend’ on Facebook). When one becomes public about his or her diagnosis, our radar goes on high alert and we flock to intercept, share stories, and hold hands. Not everyone has cancer, but we all know someone who does or did or who is waiting to be diagnosed. The baby boomers are skewing the percentages, becoming more vocal, and surviving longer. I’m learning no one has a better story. We just have stories and communities like to sit around the campfire, tell stories of daring and bravery, and look for morals or lessons learned. What one is left with when diagnosed with cancer is a margin of time. We all are, but when you have a diagnosis, there is a compression to time that enables you to question, contemplate, and sermonize about the unknown. So much is out of our control, all we really can control is how we perceive the time we have available to us, right now in this moment.

Which brings me to the last concept of community that rose brilliantly to the occasion when I put a call out for silence and thought on the day of my surgery. I was overwhelmed by the desire of so many to be of service. I believe everyone is looking for more on Facebook than cute kitten pictures, environmental blunders, and political idiocy. To be asked to think a positive thought for just one second allowed so many to shift their focus in an altruistic vein, believe for just a moment that collective thought could have a positive outcome, and that in a world where we feel powerless we truly have power. It was magical and formidable.

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That is where community sits with me today – in my heart. It expanded on March 11th and continues to grow. Which is now bringing me to another word. But that is a story for another day, another campfire, and another opportunity with which to consider time in all its elemental brilliance.

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