Sunday, January 10, 2021

Does Community Require Proximity?

Before giving 2020 its well deserved send-off, I feel I must wrap up the loose ends of my word for the past year—community. I got off to a good start with my posts last year, but then…well, you know… the pandemic.


Because this ill-fated year wreaked havoc with my communities, I didn’t get around to writing about some of the very important ones of which I’m a part. They each deserve their own post, but for the sake of time, I’ll cover all of them here as briefly as possible.


My Reading Community: I’ve belonged to the Circle of Friends Book Club for over twenty years and have grown and learned so much through this group of extraordinary ladies. By recommending books I would’ve never read on my own, they have broadened my interests and increased my knowledge and understanding on a variety of subjects. I’ve blogged about them many times, so my regular readers will know they are also fantastic cooks. I believe the meals we’ve shared are partly responsible for the club’s longevity, but it’s more than the scrumptious food. During the time we eat together, members discuss any number of experiences, both public and personal, joyful and sad. In his book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster states, “… whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion … an act of sharing and peace… eating with another is a way of saying, ‘I’m with you, I like you, we form a community together.’” This is certainly true of our book club. The pandemic has disrupted our times of communion but hopefully hasn’t ended them. I look forward to our next opportunity to break bread together.




Circle of Friends, circa 2018


My Writing Community: I participate in several writing groups, but the one in which I feel the greatest sense of community is my critique group, The Inklings. Around 2004/5 a teacher friend invited me to join her writing group, which we subsequently christened The Inklings. (We had no inkling at the time, C. S. Lewis’ writing group had already claimed that name.) Throughout the years, members have come and gone for various reasons, but a core has remained. Through their encouragement and tutelage, I have learned so much about the elusive art of writing. But far more than being a source through which to improve my writing, The Inklings—like my book club—have become family. Once again, social distancing has impeded our chances to meet physically. I can’t wait for our next gathering at the lake for the fun, the food, and the cut-throat competition of Word Wars!


The intrepid Inklings! 
(We have another member sadly no picture of her at the present.)

My Family: I’ve referred to the previous two groups as “family,” and indeed the connections are as close as possible without sharing the same genes. Explaining the special relationship that exists among blood relatives is difficult, but maybe this true story can help. (Well, “true” as I remember it.)


When I was seven, my family lived in a neighborhood teeming with children. As with all kids, our playing would often break out in arguments. On one such occasion, my sister Elaine and I were playing with neighborhood girls, when a squabble developed—probably over something critical like who was to be “it” or whose toe touched the line while playing hopscotch. Anyway, when the feuding factions gathered on opposite sides of the street, it turned out I was allied with the neighborhood girls and Elaine was standing across from us. Alone. The other girls began to mumble. Elaine was bossy . . . always had to have her own way . . . always thought she was right. While I issued identical invectives on a daily basis, something just didn’t sit right with me for them to be doing it. I began to cry. 


From her post across the street, Elaine hurled her own accusations. “What did y’all do to her?” Just as I had no problem with my own complaints about my sister, she had no compunction about her own frequent affronts which resulted in my crying. But I think we both knew intrinsically that, against outside forces, family stuck together. I crossed the street to join her.


There is truth to the adage “blood is thicker than water.” Despite the distances that separate us and our sometimes differing opinions, I’ve always known family provides me a safe place to land when times get rough or uncertain. They’ll always have my back. I pray you have such a community.

My sister and I had no reservations
about dishing out grief to each other.
But woe to the outsider who attempted it!

My Faith Community: I’ve posted many times about different aspects of my faith, so I’m focusing here on one of the ways it provides me with community. I belong to a church of about two thousand members. While gathering with a large group of people—many of whom I don’t know personally—can be inspirational and affirming, it is within the smaller groups I feel my greatest sense of connection. Those are the people who know me, who encourage me, who hold me accountable. Almost twenty years ago, a few ladies and I started  meeting once a month for a Bible study. However, most of us were working then, so difficulties with time and availability to teach made those meetings challenging. We eventually came to the conclusion that the larger church provided us with many opportunities for Bible study. What we wanted was the opportunity to relax, have fun, and enjoy each other’s company. So we decided our gatherings would simply be sharing a meal—communion! (You’re probably noticing that food plays a large part in my communities. 😆) As with The Inklings, the membership has altered slightly through the years, but a core group remains. Covid limited our physical gatherings this year but not our enthusiasm and desire for connecting with each other. Via texting and emails, we’ve been able to support each other and lift up each other in prayer. But it will be so much more  encouraging and fun when we can again meet in person.

The faith community on which I can always depend.
Sadly, we're now missing sweet Anne, who was such
a beloved member of our group. 
(Shout out to Marie, our de facto historian, for this photo!)

When I first posted about community last January, I posed this question: Does community require physical proximity? I wasn’t sure of the answer at the time, but in writing this post I realized that while physical gathering might not be required, it most assuredly is preferred and desired. Technology can help us make it through this challenging time, but it certainly is no substitute for being together in person. When we make it through this pandemic—and all the other craziness of the moment—I know we’ll return to our communities with a much stronger appreciation for the joy that being with each other brings. 


So now I bid an enthusiastic adieu to 2020. On to 2021 and my brand new word! (I’ll reveal it in my next post.)



2 comments:

  1. A lovely tribute to all - and SPOT ON with the family summary! :-)

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    Replies
    1. Shel, I thought the family part might resonate with you. 😊

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