Community is a Fourth of July small town parade, dormant for a year, pushing out of hibernation toward sunlight. Tentative, yielding, finding its foothold.
Community is your kids’ high school friends watching the parade alongside you and your high school friends. Or not watching, but gathering on the sidelines to socialize, like you used to do at your high school football games. The parade goes by, or the game plays on, and you float along the stream of conversations, pausing to clap for an outstanding feat before retreating to that person, that thought, that sip of wine in a plastic cup. All down our block and through the town, people gather with the excuse of the parade. To gather is all we have wanted for a year and a half.
But community is also complicated. I do not know every neighbor on my block, not by name or by sight. I have mixed feelings about the parade and fireworks and the absence of nuance in both. The militaristic marching. The unnerving booming that damages our PTSD veterans and pets. The razzmatazz sparkles in the sky. The bass resonating against your breastbone. The collective “ohhhs.”
Community is conflicting perspectives butting up against each other. The graffiti painted in orange at the park — You celebrate a country that conquered native people, enslaved an entire race, and dropped two atomic bombs (undisputed facts) — against my silent answer that I celebrate a country that also self-embedded mechanisms to improve itself, and that elevates aspirational ideals. With liberty and justice for all.
Community requires holding a sincere curiosity about another person’s experiences, whether it is self-described liberal sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s deep listening to the people of a conservative community of Louisiana in her transformational book, Strangers in a Strange Land, or my curiosity and deep listening about the experiences of being Black in America, without feeling defensive or threatened.
Community is listening for the sake of understanding each other, for the goal of moving forward together to a better way. Community is arguing, as Jewish tradition requires, “for the sake of heaven” not victory, or as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks interprets this, “out of a desire to discover the truth, not out of cantankerousness wish to prevail.”
The parade ends, people dissipate, the moment of community ebbs, we retreat to our homes, our comfortable silos, with a choice. Either we commit to listening, considering, and pausing before responding, or default to “knowing” what we want to know. Community is ours to have or to lose.