Thinking about community


We need to work to ‘gain control over the conditions under which we struggle with the challenges of life’. For the most of us ‘such control can be gained only collectively.’ (Zygmunt Bauman).

We had a very long wait for the train in the old Seattle station to begin the cross-country journey to Chicago. An owl had flown through the train windshield and it took hours to repair the damage. The people waiting with me and I commiserated together and the longer our wait the more we interacted and the more we laughed.

This group around me were waiting for sleeping cars. As our wait stretched into darkness I realized how exhausted I was after weeks of packing and cleaning and lugging boxes. The coach crowd grew and I became less and less confident that I could rest in my seat for 2 nights. After our 7th hour of waiting I went to the desk and asked if there were berths available. Given a good price I extended my credit privileges and bought a berth.

It was a good decision. I slept like a baby in a cradle and had nourishing meals. Our little Seattle waiting group expanded into those already on the train. As we became engaged in discussions about our journeys – backward and forward – we moved from repartee to dialog. As we shared, I thought a lot about my pilgrimage seeking a community living situation.

The word “community” is derived from the Old French communité which is derived from the Latin communitas (cum, “with/together” + munus, “gift”), a broad term for fellowship or organized society.[2] 

The cultivation of reciprocity, honesty and trust is less about building alien institutions and structures, than creating the conditions for their emergence.

Self-interest may bring people together, but in interaction something else emerges. ‘Feelings and ideas are renewed, the heart enlarged, and the understanding developed, only by the reciprocal action of men one upon another.’ Whether people are disposed to engage with one another is dependent upon the norms of a particular society or community – and the extent to which individuals make them…what de Tocqueville, writing in the first half of the nineteenth century, called ‘habits of the heart’ (1994: 287).

One of my young “goddaughters,” who recently served in the Peace Corp, put this note on Facebook today: “The bus from east lansing to detroit metro airport has reclining seats (75% of which are empty), an operational toilet, someone to load and unload my luggage, a cooler of bottled water, free wi-fi, and it runs on schedule to the exact minute. moments like these make me wonder if public transport in lesotho was even real.”

Sitting on a seat that long ago lost cushioning, cringing behind a heavy smoker, on a very crowded small bus bringing me from Chicago to Kalamazoo, I was singing to myself “what if god is one of us… tryin’ to make his way home..?” I’ve been with my family for 5 days now. Our work and every day lives are different but our norms are the same. In all honesty I’m not (yet?) oriented to travelin’ in the back of the bus.

About Marian Methner, B.S., D.Min.

Polydox: accepting that we are many labels, I am mother of 4, mother in law (love) of 4 and grandmother of 5. My life is a collection of bits and starts. I was recently on the road for over a year exploring ideas of living in shared housing. A recent summer course in Permaculture design, solidifed my interest in "social permaculture" or ways we interact not only with our Earthly environment but also with each other. I am back Bellingham, Washington, in a small rental house, owned by my ex husband, talk about shared housing, practicing living in community with family, and friends. My doctoral dissertation A Map to Living Open Heartedly, centers around making art as a way to healing. Paradoxiclly, a recent diagnoses of heart failure (cardiomyopathy) expands this exploration...
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