Tonight I attended a wonderful discussion led by two area faith leaders: a Presbyterian pastor and a Jewish rabbi. The focus was on a biblical ethic of community, and the discussion was rich. We discussed how we define community, how we know who is in (or not in) our community. We looked at scripture and tradition to consider how our ideas of community are formed.
Near the end of the discussion we acknowledged the privilege all of us around the table enjoy in terms of having choices about communities to which we belong. We considered that many may not feel that they will be accepted in certain groups or communities. Real barriers exist.
I didn’t share with the group, because it was a large group, but my thoughts went to dementia. What communities am I a part of now that I will someday cease to be a part of when my abilities change?
Conversation topics with my mom are limited. We have the same conversations over and over, but clearly she remembers key communities: the Cairo Syrupmakers high school band, both the Baptist and Methodist churches she attended in Statesboro, a close group of friends known as “supper club.” Others she seems to have forgotten: a sorority, a garden club, an office staff. But nearly 15 years into this disease and having moved out of state a year ago, it’s hard to say that she is genuinely a part of her former communities. She’s just not capable, and she’s far away (though she does still receive notes and cards from many thoughtful friends and family.)
I can’t help but wonder what communities I will remain a part of once I begin to lose words, memories, and reasoning skills. If I move into the same assisted living facilitly as mom and stay a part of this small town, will I still be a part of the Ashland town community? Will the church where I’ve served and participated for years continue to come to me even when I can’t come to it? If I remain in the same role at the college where I work for years to come, will I have gained a permanent community even after I need to retire? I wonder…
But you know, tonight’s discussion was about community, it wasn’t about me. And I’m grateful for the many fresh angles of vision I saw around the very long and loud table. So I end this reflection not even caring about the answers to the questions I just posed. Instead, I turn the questions about myself into questions about community. I am thinking of a long-time Ashland resident who has just moved into assisted living at the edge of town. I’m thinking how I can continue to be in genuine community with him. I’m thinking of the church I love, and I’m picturing a long-time member who is no longer able to attend services. I realize I haven’t reached out to her in a very, very long time. I’m going to do so. I am thinking of two retired college professors who are still geographically in our community and considering ways to connect more deeply with them.
So… what does it mean to you to be in a community? I am seeing more clearly what it means to me.