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Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

alvin-engler-102560

College made finding community easy. I lived with people. They socialized with people. I socialized with people. College was a social atmosphere. After one year, I found my group and the places I liked to go.

Working made finding community not too difficult. Side by side, I sat with my coworkers with similar interests and we bonded over the joys and difficulties of our work. Working with people, I was ready to go home and be with only my family. I was done socializing.

When I made the decision to stay-at-home, both of these sources were gone. As I made progress along the path of adulthood, I learned friendships must become deliberate. I still saw friends from work, but we make appointments now to get together. Otherwise, time seems to disappear.

But where can I go where I just see people without the pressure of giving them all my attention? It has taken a number of years, but I think we have found it, for our life right now.

I rely on some old friends and some new. Seasons of life bring different seasons in friendship. A couple work friends, a couple college friends form my inner circle.

Social media became the source for me to maintain contact with friends of shared interests. We enjoy discussing art, literature, church and culture.

We sit outside and visit with neighbors who are in a neighborly mood. I meet a few people, wave to a few people, and have seen a relationship with next-door neighbors grow. These hobby friends and neighbors form another circle.

Through our church community, we meet new people. When you sit side-by-side, in front or behind the same people week in and week out, you start to learn something about them. Unfortunately, we often do not learn their names. They are in the same boat as us, and when we do, they can form lifelong friendships. They become a type of family.

In the church and city, there are charitable organizations we can join. I find my time limited by parenting, but new ways are emerging. In these organizations, I find the mix of ages and backgrounds we need to keep us intellectually on our toes. Generations can learn from each other.

There are also third places. Third places are places where people gather on a regular basis. Like the church pew, they start to recognize and learn something about the people around them. Do you go to Hamilton’s on Sundays, Coco’s during the week, or Samaritan Village every Saturday?

The catch to all this community building, is we have to come prepared to build. Our tools are an openness to meeting others and a willingness to take an interest in others. What do I mean by openness? No only a willingness to wave and say hi, but to be willing to sit without our phone or electronic device. Staring at a screen communicates to others we are busy, talking to us is an interruption. It may be only a manner of passing the time, but to others, it puts up a wall. We are unapproachable in these casual settings. Earbuds function the same way. We have to engage with the world apart from digital activity in order to be able to connect with others in a real way.

We also must take an interest in others. If we go with our own script written out or spend the listening time planning our response, we will appear distracted and be unable to grab onto what the other person is talking about. People want others to be interested in them. Showing that interest builds trust. Trust builds friendship. Friendship builds community.

It is not easy. When the rest of the world seems otherwise engaged, not interested in us, when we have become habituated to distraction or just are so tired of the world we do not want to socialize, it is not easy. But like exercise, we need it. It may be hard to get started, to reach out, shake a hand and ask a question. But we need it. And they need it. And it makes the world a better place.