Thursday, June 19, 2014

On Building Community

On Memorial Day, I joined a meet-up group for a nine-mile hike in the southern part of Rock Creek Park. I had been wanting to do more hiking but didn’t know where to start, so it was an awesome way to jump in. It was a great group of people, and when we stopped for a lunch that I hadn’t packed for, my fellow hikers shared theirs.

After an iced latte and some time in the air conditioning, I headed out to the community garden to continue preparing the soil for planting, hard but satisfying work. In the process, I met the woman in my neighboring plot, a nice older lady who gave me a thumbs-up and told me I was doing a good job. When she saw me awkwardly balancing my camera on my bag to take a self-timer picture of myself in action (because I’m a huge dork), she offered to take one for me and the result was this great photo.

All in all, it was a day that made me thankful for the kindness of strangers.

My Catholic elementary/middle/high school ascribed to five goals of the Sacred Heart that infused almost everything we did. This spring, I went to an alumnae retreat themed around the goals. In a breakout discussion of Goal IV, “the building of community as a Christian value,” I talked about the challenges of building community in these post-college years. In a school setting, you work and play (and sometimes live) with the same people, and you are embedded within a framework of shared values—whether it was the goals at Stone Ridge, or the international/environmentalist/ ethos of Middlebury. Now, I have great friends from high school, college, and work, but with everyone spread out across DC and across the country, it’s harder to identify my “community.” (Though with a shared mission and lots of awesome people, my work comes close to one.)

One of the alums, a few years older than me, commented, “Building community doesn’t have to be one big party.” It happens in the individual interactions – in strengthening friendships, reaching out to acquaintances, being kind to a difficult person at work. That was a lightbulb moment for me, and I’ve thought about it ever since.

I was happy to realize that what happened on the hike and in the garden was community-building in the true spirit of Goal IV – one individual interaction at a time.

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