“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” ~Anthony J. D’ Angelo
Having a sense of community is a feeling of comfort. We all like to feel like we belong, whether our connection is neighborhood, work, church, organizations, charity work, or a circle of friends. It’s almost like a membership to a special group. We feel valued that our welfare and opinions matter to those around us.
I come from a small town where a sense of community is strong. Everyone is related to someone within a two mile vicinity. Everyone knows everyone’s name, and their business. Everyone waves at every car that passes by, whether they know who they are or not. When I did something I shouldn’t have chances were fairly high that my parents would know about it by the end of the day.
Back then, we didn’t think twice about “dropping in” on someone. And most of the people we were close enough to that we walked right in without even knocking. Times have changed and trust has all but vanished in this day. Now we call first. We knock. And we always keep our doors locked. Well, maybe not always, but it sure isn’t like it used to be. Besides, we seemed to have so much free time back then…how’s that?
We looked out for one another. We watched each others kids. We shared dinners. We took care of one another when sick. We ran errands for neighbors, relatives, and friends. Shopping was an all day outing. Nothing was convenient, yet it was wonderful.
I think the sense of community we feel strongly correlates with our involvement with that particular group. I still have ties to many groups that I am not currently involved with. I don’t feel like a total outsider, yet I don’t feel like I quite fit in anymore. I think that also is a part of growth in our own lives. We move on, get involved with new endeavors, and build other communities.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Maybe not, but the child who has the village involved is usually better off because of it. I remember when my boys were young; it was the law (and a requirement by us as the parents) for children under twelve to wear a bike helmet. My son would get around the corner and pull his helmet off, and I’d get a call from a neighbor down the street. When he arrived home wearing his helmet, I’d ask him when he decided to put it back on. He’d complain that someone was always “tattling” on him. Then they became teenagers. I’d get a call from a friend or church member asking if my child was supposed to be at a specific location because the car had been spotted there, not that these were bad places, but because they just weren’t sure if they had my permission. Sometimes, I already knew where they were and other times they were supposed to be somewhere else. One such time, one of my kids was helping a friend whose car wouldn’t start. These truly weren’t significant instances. My kids thought these people were just nosy. And maybe some were. They were usually not close friends, just casual acquaintances. My “real” friends would have stopped and asked my kids if they had permission to be where they were or most likely they would not have to ask because they knew me well enough to know what my kids were allowed to do. The “interference” used to drive my kids crazy. I was thankful that people did tell me things, yet at times I felt like they were questioning my judgment. And sometimes, I wasn’t quite sure whether the motive was for the benefit of my children or not. There were few instances that my friend’s kids were involved in things they shouldn’t have been. Instead of telling on them, I called the kids out on it. I gave them time to remedy the situation with the option that if I heard it again I was going to tell my friend who was the parent. I never knew if I’d made the correct decisions in doing it or not. Maybe, I betrayed my friend by not telling. I don’t feel like we as parents need to know everything our kids do, even though we might want to. If they’re in danger then it’s important to steer them in the right direction and for the parents to have ample warning. It’s a matter of personal decision.
At the same time, I understood the frustration of my own children. Involvement from people we don’t consider our community can feel like an infringement. I suppose what it came down to is a generation thing, maybe an “us” verses “them” mentality that severs the sense of community. Even though people step over the line at times, I prefer that over no sense of community at all. I think most of us have clear boundaries of who we consider our community to be, our own responsibilities, and expectations of others.
I don’t feel like we have the same sense of community that we did while our kids were young. We were involved back then. Most of our neighbors are in the same situation as us. If they need us, we’re here, and vice versa. Of course, there are many people in the neighborhood that we don’t know. I don’t make it a point to go out and meet people. I do say hello to people who walk by if I happen to be in my yard or if I walk by them in theirs. I guess the difference is that our sense of community used to be a large one. Now, it is a limited group of people. Small and closed comforts me. I don’t stay involved in groups that I “try to fit in”. I want the freedom to be accepted for who I am. If that is not extended I move on. To me a sense of community is actually feeling a connection to those around me, and that can only happen with acceptance on each of our parts.
Though, I haven’t lived in my hometown for almost thirty years, I still feel a sense of community. Though I seldom recognize the locals these days, I still get that giddy feeling when we roll in town and pull up to our favorite places I still have a soft place in my heart for the people I grew up with and for those who looked out for me when my own judgment was not always sound or my safety was in danger. They are the ones who encouraged and guided me, and seem happy to see me even after all these years. It’s always good to have a place to call home…and even better if you can call both your childhood town and current town “home”.