To give a bit of background, this community centre is the same place where both our children performed in their first Christmas concert during their kindergarten year. This is the place where they both graduated from grade nine. This is the place that hosted the soccer selections for the coaches during the many years I coached, and the place we held the awards if the weather was inclement outside. This is where most classes graduated, until 2013, the year of the flood, when we had to rely on a neighbouring community to help us host. This is where my wonderful friend, Graham hosted his 80th birthday bash, complete with Scottish dancing and meat pie at midnight. This is where we’ve had class reunions. And weddings. And memorial services. I’ve given speeches here, danced, laughed, and cried here.
I was thinking about this community centre as I sat there Thursday, having visited with so many old friends. I realized it was not the building itself at the centre of this community. The building has certainly been the container for our little community as we’ve navigated life, but it is the people who have made up the centre of this community.
It’s a complex idea, this idea of community; one I find myself trying to sort out this week. For some community is nothing more than a place, a place where people reside and have social interactions with others who also happen to reside there. I suppose, considered that way, my little block in my neighbourhood is a community. But even after being here for more than seven years, I cannot say I feel any strong attachment, other than familiarity, when I think about it.
On the other hand, I can think of several groups I belong to that give me a strong sense of community. My dance group is one such community. When I think of them, I can almost see a beautiful thread of connection running through us. Interestingly, the members of this group do not live near one another. We are spread out across a huge city; some members even join us from neighbouring towns. For this group, place is not what makes us a community.
My little hiking group is a community. We do not live near one another. In the grand scheme of life, we are quite new to one another. But we too, have an unspoken thread that runs through us, connecting us in a way I find so difficult to put into words. The group I work with on our Africa project is like this too.
The Red Deer Lake Community, where I gathered on Thursday, gives me this same sense. Again, although we generally lived in the ‘same’ area, in fact we were spread out over many, many kilometres. It was far more than a little walk or bike ride over to another community member’s home. And yet, that gorgeous thread weaves through us too.
So, what is this thing I call community?
Up until this week, had you asked me what my top values are, I could easily have given them to you. I’ve done years of study and teaching about values. It is at the centre of so much of my work. I thought I had mine firmly established. Family was at the top, followed by integrity, nature and several others that would not surprise anyone who knows me. I would not, however, have listed community as a value. I think of myself as a person who loves solitude. I don’t crave large groups. And yet today as I sit here, I know without question that community, as I view the concept, is an extremely high value of mine.
From my perspective, a community provides me with a feeling of belonging. Yet it is more than this. Community gives me a shared sense of personal relatedness. Yet, again, it is more than this. In the communities of my mind, each member has influence; each member matters, and makes a difference to the group. Members do not need roles, yet their very presence matters. Their absence matters too. Yet it is more than this. Members of communities share some emotional connection. Yet it must be more than this too.
I have wracked my brain to try to organize my thoughts on this. This week, for some reason it feels vitally important. This is what I think I know. In the communities I mentioned above, there is some kind of invisible bond between the members. There is a deep sense of knowing that the other members of the community are with us on our journey. They too are travelling a similar road. They will, of course, stop to see the scenery at different places, they will travel at different speeds and stay in different accommodations. But should we meet them on the road, we recognize them, and they us. We would most certainly know, deeply know, that they are with us, that they understand, that they have travelled, or are travelling, our road and that they will walk with us when they notice we could use walking partner. Not only will they walk, they will carry us when we cannot do so on our own.
Today as I sit and write, I understand fully what these communities have given to me. I understand how lucky I am and how rich my life is because of them. I recognize that by being part of them, I’ve had a safe place to grow, to raise my family, to explore new passions, to risk making a difference, and to learn how wonderful it is to understand that we have the capacity to dance through life. These communities have been vital to my well-being.
I hope I am returning the gift to them.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What am I contributing to my community?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups and has expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to find out how to create community.