I didn’t understand the value of community until I found myself absorbed by the hardcore music scene in Indianapolis (then Boston, then San Jose, then Portland, etc.) and I didn’t even have a context for it. All I knew was that I was living, playing and growing within a group of people that shared similar values and interests. We fed off each other and, unfortunately, probably tore each other down more than built ourselves up as we fought to gain a sense of self-confidence as such a formulative time in our lives. We built friendships. We fought enemies. We loved. We hated. We shared. And we stole. We did everything the larger society does, but on a much smaller scale, and I’m not sure many of us knew the value of what we were creating and what we were experiencing until much further down the line when it was all but gone.
With one foot still in the hardcore music scene, I also found myself gravitating to other communities, through bicycle counter-culture, barista culture, and Anarchism. It was that last group that really gave context to what I had been experiencing up to that point.
Anarchism DEFINED community for me. It explained it, gave it a sense of parameters, highlighted the value of it, and constantly taught me how to make attempts to build it in the face of a much larger and more destructive type of “community”, if one dares even call it that. Sadly though, the focus on DEFINING community weighed it down with a sense of obligation among its members. Some of us couldn’t stand each other, but we stuck together because we thought we HAD to….and, predictably, our problems grew inside something like a social pressure cooker until they exploded our “community” all over the country. That community was destined to fail because it wasn’t genuine. It wasn’t organic. It may have been informed and understood…even fostered…but it lacked the honesty that really keeps a group of people together.
This doesn’t mean the experience I had in the Anarchist community was worthless, however, because I now moved on in life understanding the potential, both revolutionarily and personally/socially, in integrating or building community amongst others, whether that be explicitly political or simply with others that share your interests, be that cooking, reading, juggling, walking on all fours, eating without using your hands, or even….running.
When we really strip away all the complexities though, community is most valuable in it’s ability to provide for it’s members through it’s members. It is the very simple dynamic of adding to the pot when you can in order to take from the pot when you need it. It doesn’t have to be viewed in a politically communist context either. It’s merely bringing food to a pitch-in so that you can share with others what they share with you. It’s writing inspirational running messages on your blog so that others will respond with inspirations of their own. In the physical sense, it’s giving someone a high-five and simultaneously getting that high-five right back….but again and again and again.
And, right now, more than I ever have in my entire life, I’m experiencing the value of both being a part of and building a community, when I need it most. I previously wrote about the difficulty in absorbing others generosity in the face of cancer and currently being uninsured, not wanting to accept the reality of being a charity case, no matter how warranted. I am the type that is more comfortable building community, putting into the pot, than being the one that has to take from it, but a friend helped me in succinctly stating that this generosity is not about sacrifice or charity in it’s obligatory sense, but rather about the functions of a community, providing for it’s members in need now that the need has arisen. And they were so right. I’ve now stopped, mostly, from feeling a sense of guilt in accepting others generosity and instead have started viewing it as a return by the communities I have tried to build and contribute to myself…and will continue to build and contribute to down the line.
And even beyond the generosity so graciously given to me, whether emotional, financial or otherwise, the pride I’ve felt in being a part of so many different communities has helped me face this coming adversity with great strength…and I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to reciprocate that to others.
Since I mentioned my cancer diagnosis just two weeks ago, my sense of involvement in so many communities has grown exponentially as friends from my past have stepped forward, friends my present have come to my side, and complete strangers from the world over who feel connected to me or a community I am a part of have made themselves known. I am unreservedly humbled.
My extended family in Indiana and New Jersey are my community.
My friends from the hardcore scene are my community.
My friends in the fight for animal liberation are my community.
My coworkers are my community.
My friends I ride with through the streets, together or separate, are my community.
My teammates are DEFINITELY my community.
My Facebook friends (yes, even…or especially them) are my community.
My Instagram friends (yes, them too!) are my community.
My friends I see everyday at the businesses I frequent are my community.
My friends, strangers or not, I run with up on the roads of Indy are my community.
My trail running friends are ABSOLUTELY my community.
And that is not the extent either….
All of these communities, individuals, groups, friends, strangers, etc., have come to my aid in some way or another these past two weeks and I am completely filled with appreciation, and to be a little selfish about it, greatly satisfied and relieved that over the years I have made attempts to foster and build the communities that have given me so much up to this point, and to be such a part of them that in times of great need, such as now, I’m afforded the value of their support and generosity.
And it was there all along, of course, but sometimes it’s hard to see just how far people will go to help you until you actually need it. But it is there. Absolutely it is there.
Conversely, I’ve thought about those who face situations like mine, having a life-threatening disease, the misfortune of being uninsured, and yet DON’T have communities. No family, few friends, little organized groups based around interests, no church, no politics, etc. I just can’t imagine. Not for a second, I can’t imagine what that sense of loneliness and desperation must feel like, when resources, both financial and emotional, are so incredibly needed. It breaks my heart.
I sit here alone now, typing these words out into the world, in a way helping continue the communities I’ve created by what I hope is a little perspective and positivity, but I’m in no way alone. I’ve been approached in public by people I’ve never met, but who recognize me from trail races…and I feel the value of community. I continue to receive messages from people the world over who are connected to me through running, veganism or other interests…and I feel the value of community. The medical fund set up for my needs continues to be filled by family, friends and strangers alike, who feel compelled to offer their generosity…and I feel the value of community. I’ve been somewhat reclusive the past week as I wait out the days and emotionally prepare for the new life – physical, mental and emotional – that is about come after this weekend, but I can do this because I’m not alone. I’m surrounded, actually, by friends, by strangers, and by the strength of community.
Thank you friends. Always give to those what you would hope to get in return.