Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What is Community? Lessons from a broken bike

    On Tuesday my bike found a piece of glass in the road and I got a flat tire. I was only a mile and a half from my house, so it was no big deal. Since severe thunderstorms were starting to move into the area, I had to get home as quickly as possible. It took about a half hour (boy do we have big hills!) so I had loads of time to think.
     At first I was thinking 'who would you trust if they stopped to help you?' It was strange. I usually trust everyone, enough so that it makes my husband nervous. After a while, I moved on to 'why is no one stopping to help?'
I've lived in my neighborhood for 23 years and have both helped and been helped by my neighbors several times. By the end of the walk I was just wishing one of them would roll down their car window to commiserate. The world really had changed in the last ten years, and I had changed along with it.
     It took days for me to figure out what was bugging me. It was all about community. My first thoughts were about who is in my community, who would I trust. I go to tai chi three times a week in the inner city of Cincinnati. They are my community, even though I live way out in the suburbs. It wouldn't occur to me to say no any help offered there. But back home, I do most of my living inside the box- either the box of my house or the yard.
      Out in the suburbs, things are spread out. In the suburbs, there are few sidewalks. Suburban living discourages the sense of community I find at the Linn Street YMCA. It's one of the reasons I got a bicycle. On my bike I can ride to the grocery, library, and local coffee shops. I'm in the world as I go from place to place, not in a little air conditioned box on wheels. I need to create the community I want to live in.
     There is also an aspect of convenience that we all expect now. It seeems that the ease of ordering things from Amazon and connecting through cell phones and the internet makes us less willing to work for the things we say are important. It's so much easier to decline invitations than doing the inconvenient work of building community. I've noticed the reluctance growing in myself and others close to me. Our first answer is no, then we reconsider.  Since we've noticed this trend, my husband and I consider the long term impact of doing whatever we were considering, rather than just the short term 'I want to get (this task) done this weekend.' It is tempting to stay home and finish the front hall project. Lord knows, I want to take the painters tape down and the tarp up from the floor. But what will it mean in ten years? All of my nieces will be grown and may have children of their own. They won't even think of inviting me to the zoo with them if I don't lay the groundwork now.
     We are created to live in community. It takes work and vigilance to keep the community alive in the era of automobiles and cell phones. It's time to get to work.

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