This week I started writing my daily blog posts with the premise that there is a lot of work to go around in developing robust, active, engaging communities where people really stick to each other. I sat down and quickly identified two dozen things people could be doing to build and sustain communities. (The full list appears at the end of this post.) Monday through Thursday I took time each day to consider where I observed the next five things happening around me. By Wednesday, it became clear to me that I felt much more hopeful about community and more aware of community when I was looking for specific signs of it. The tiresome habit of reinforcing my disappointments in community is not nearly as interesting as finding proof of its existence and of its proponents.
Today, I am looking for signs of witnessing, sourcing, waiting, and suggesting, but instead of looking to someone else, I think I will look to myself and plan to do this work. I have a couple of early calls to make, but then I will walk to the local market in hopes of meeting James (not his real name) there.
James has been at the entrance to the market every morning this week. It seems incongruous to see a cardboard sign hanging from his neck. He is tall, large, handsome, and pleasant. His jeans and red t-shirt are clean and he is well-groomed. When we met on Monday, I felt pained to read the sign stating that he needs our loose change. On the way into the store I heard his request and told him I wanted to go into the store to buy my breakfast, but that I would be back that way in a few minutes. When I returned I palmed him a five and said, “My name is Gary. What’s yours?” I said it was good to meet him and that I hoped to see him again soon. Each morning our time together has extended, first two minutes, and yesterday nearly ten.
Today, I am asking James to join me for breakfast. I think I will start by asking him how his week has been going. I will ask him about the cardboard sign and how it is for him to put in on each day. I will ask him if it would be okay to take it off when we have breakfast together. If it isn’t okay, he can leave it on. I will tell him that the meal is a going away breakfast because I leave tomorrow. And then I plan to listen to his story if he will tell me any of it.
That’s it: witnessing, sourcing, waiting, and suggesting. It feels small and inconsequential to me. I have an image of myself as a child trying to figure out how to assist my family in our seemingly insurmountable problems. I think my small efforts amount to next to nothing. Still, they arc toward community and that is what I can figure out right now.
[Work to be done: encouraging, lending hope, coordinating, appreciating, summarizing, finding alternatives, questioning, stopping, slowing, staying alert, listening to joy, listening to grief, accepting, reminding, critiquing, herding, loving, sharing, confiding, supporting, witnessing, sourcing, waiting, suggesting]