Counting on one another is a critical feature of community. We count on each other to keep traffic moving at a reasonable pace, to stop at red lights, to wait as pedestrians cross. We count on each other to mow lawns, prune shrubs, and pick up litter. We count on each other to pay our dues, make our contributions, and ante up.
We rely on teachers to teach, singers to sing, and workers to work. We rely on drivers to drive, protesters to protest, and fighters to fight. We want our mothers to mother and our fathers to father.
The common practices of community from mourning the loss of a beloved artist to planting neighborhood gardens all require us to depend on one another. No car goes down the assembly line and no apples travel from orchards without our interdependence.
Odd, I think, that we devote so relatively little time to plan, teach, improve, and celebrate our interdependence.
When I was 13 years old, I entered a friary in preparation of becoming a Capuchin friar. In the three and one half years I lived and studied there, I did just about all the jobs there were to do to keep the place chugging along. I drove tractor, mowed lawns, shoveled gravel, built a stage, printed invitations on a letter press, swept stairs, baked bread, washed windows, laid a foundation, vacuumed carpets, served at mass, sang in the choir, played organ, helped the sick, scrubbed toilets, cooked meals, washed dishes, and more. We all knew how to do most jobs there were to do because we would be counting on each other to do them for the rest of our lives.
This life in the friary was very simple, but quite lovely. We joked that there was a good reason we were called an Order.
At 18 I was back in the world, going to college, and enjoying myself in other ways. I did much more than survive during that time, but the struggles were quite significant. Then, when I was about 21 or 22, I started to visit an old man and his family in Gillett, Wisconsin. A group of us, all gay men in our 20s and 30s, would pile into a car and head up for a weekend. We’d stop at the “dairy bar,” the local supper club, the white-painted cheese factory, and the dime store where you could buy t-shirts that proudly sported the name of the high school PE department.
Even on the Sunday mornings that we’d crowd into a pew at the local Methodist church, we were greeted as guests. In fact, many weeks the local paper included a brief notice of our recent visit to the Smith family. Our hair was long, we were tan and lean, and we were as gay as a bag of birds. Still, we were visitors.
Not since the days in the friary had I known that peace and order. In retrospect, I think the interdependence of all of the residents of Gillett resonated with me and my desire for community. It would be wrong to assume the place was uptight, boring, or lacked creativity. Rather, it seemed that no one was expendable, no one too much to handle. People were happy that my friend had fought in World War II. They were happy he came home. If he came home a little queer, that was okay, too.
He had anted up.