I am sure I learned very young that community was important. I just didn’t have the language for it. When I was a pre-school kid, I recall my dad going into the little town close to our farm. A number of guys (I don’t remember any women) gathered each morning in the local drugstore to have coffee and discuss the hot topics of the night before and day to come. I was thrilled to be included, but I don’t recall talking. But I was present.
I am sure no one called that gathering a “community.” But that is exactly what it was. It was not a religious community, although I am sure most of the guys went to church somewhere in the little town. It was not political, although politics surely were central to the discussion. It was a “community community,” if that makes any sense. Sports, local news, farm economy and local business news were the fabric of the community.
I have been part of communities most of my adult life. It is fair to say they are important to me. It seems I need them, although I suppose I could survive without one. But I do know life would be immensely poorer. Communities feed my soul. They help my life have meaning and purpose. They are life giving.
I am fascinated with how communities form and develop. Some communities have lasted for a long time. I think of communities like the Benedictine monks. They have been around since the sixth century. Of course, no monk has lived that long! But somehow monks join, live there and die. Yet the community endures and, often, prospers (in a spiritual sense, of course). This prompts me to ponder a little more deeply.
I just got the news a good friend of mine was moving and would, therefore, leave one of the communities of which I am a part at my college. The news is certainly not tragic. After all, she is moving on to a better job for her. It makes perfect sense why she would do this. I support the move and applaud the neat opportunity for her. There is not one ounce of me that thinks she should do anything other than leave me and the rest of the community.
However, that does not mean her leaving will not be a loss for us. Good for her and sorry for us. Then I realized, it is not “sorry for us.” Of course, we will miss her. A community will miss anyone who is integrally part of it. If you are not integrally part of a community and leave it, most folks won’t miss you. Good-bye and good riddance goes the saying! Good-bye and we’ll miss you is what we will call as our friend leaves.
All this prompts me to consider community losses. If someone who is important to a community leaves, I think there is a three-step process that enables us to understand what goes on. It covers any kind of loss. The loss could be like the one of my friend. She is alive and well and moving on to a more appropriate place for her right now. Another form of significant loss is death. When someone important in the community dies, it is a key community loss.
The first step in the process of coping with the loss is some sadness and grief. In the first blush of the loss, we realize the role the person played in our community. This realization makes it clear to us that a real piece of the “communal us” has gone out the door and we will never be exactly the same gang. Again, if we care about the person and who she or he has been in our midst, it is natural to feel sad and some grief.
The second phase of the process of dealing with community loss is beginning to cope with the “hole” in the community. The place and the role of the person the community lost are starkly evident. Coping usually takes the form of statements that say in effect, “We miss her.” Or we hear memories like, “Remember when she…” Coping with loss is natural and healthy. We wished her well when she left. And now, we are wishing ourselves well as we go forward in our community.
The third phase of the process of community losses entails filling the hole of loss with the love of a whole community. Ultimately and finally, a healthy community begins to fill in the hole of loss with the overflowing love of everyone who is left in the community. It is more like a healing process than it is a miracle. Our sadness turns to good memories. Our grief heals into acceptance.
It is a good reminder that all communities are mortal. Communities are mortal because everyone within a community is mortal. Perhaps that is one reason why communities are so precious. They are crucibles for loving, living and, finally, losing. They are a wonderful alternative to going it alone. They are healthy antidotes to cynical solitariness. Real community is always a grace.