Building Community Drop By Drop

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch


Berkeley, Charlottesville, North Korea, Mexico, Florida, Texas, Montana, Oregon, ISIS, health insurance, climate, UN, opioid epidemic, university protests…the list goes on and on of areas in our country, in our world, in our newsfeed in crisis. Two days ago I sat with my mother on her porch and we talked about how these seem to be particularly dark times. Yesterday, my neighbor told me the news:

“Stanislaus County deputies found 64-year-old David Brichetto of Oakdale dead in a white, four-door sedan parked along Geer Road, just south of Yosemite Boulevard. Brichetto had sustained injuries indicating he had been killed by someone.” (Fox News, 9/18/17)

There was a time when a little town far away from everything else as disconnected as the miles that lay between it and its neighboring town. It might be a newsworthy event to travel from one’s rural retreat to town to buy supplies. I have never lived in such an era.

With the Internet and social media, we find ourselves with access news from all over the world in towns we could have lived and died without ever having heard of just a few decades ago. The world is smaller, they say. Then why do we seem so far apart?

A veteran sat on the side of the road selling tools and asking for work. I asked my parents about this man. Someone they knew had hired him. He was a good man and a good worker, but not able to do heavy manual labor.

Until he died, I never knew his name.

Loneliness is the epidemic of our times.

It affects children who sit alone playing video games. It affects stay-at-home parents who feel isolated in their own neighborhoods. It affects empty nesters whose children moved out-of-state. It affects aging persons whose suburban housing developments have no benches to rest on during a morning walk.

Small doses of loneliness can give us opportunities to recharge, reflect and consider the big questions of life. Long-term loneliness and social isolation, “the discrepancy between what you want from your social relationships and your perception of those relationships” puts our brain in survival mode, neglecting activity in the areas used for empathy, increases depression, and decreases life expectancy (Entis, L., “Chronic Loneliness Is a Modern-Day Epidemic,” Fortune, June 22, 2016.)

Specialists on the subject say terrorists want people to panic, to turn against each other, to cause terror. In natural disasters, nationally funded aid often struggles to get through the waters. People survive by helping each other, sharing boats, delivering pizza. When we come together, we can make it through dark times.

For children ages two to three, parallel play is satisfying. For older children and adults, it is not enough to be side-by-side with another person, absorbed in totally different activities. Our brains and bodies crave personal engagement. We need to be heard and understood. We need to hear and understand.

The speed of our cars, fears of urban legends, and the news cycle itself keep us moving past the man on the side of the road. Keeping safety in mind, what could we have done differently? Perhaps, by myself, not much.

But if I invest in my town, if I am engaged in my local church or community group, maybe I could have had a place to invite him.

Some people who live alone go an entire day without speaking to anyone. Maybe this will be the year I take my children to sing Christmas Carols at Samaritan Village, a community-minded retirement center. I should keep an eye out in my neighborhood. Maybe there is an elderly neighbor I never see. Maybe we could take that neighbor cup of lemonade when we have our lemonade stand.

By ourselves, we cannot change the world. The world will change drop by drop. Mother Teresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

I do not want to live in my own little world. Each tragedy or crisis in the world is a call to remind us how much we need each other, and when we work together, leaving no person forgotten or behind, we can accomplish great things.

For more meditations on communities and persons unknown, check out this review by Stephen Greydanus on a new film, Unknown.

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