Monday, January 8, 2018

The Cure for the Chill of Loneliness? The Warmth of Community.

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”   --Dorothy Day, Catholic social activist

What do you do on the absolute coldest night of the year? On the absolute coldest evening in many years, almost 100 years? Like this past Saturday, when the mercury bottomed out at -6 degrees outside my door, making this part of the world feel more like Alaska's Bering Strait than the Bay State. January 6th into the morning of the 7th, 2018, was the most bone numbingly frigid day and night we've known and will likely know for many lifetimes. The kind of weather we'll tell our grandkids about one day. 

You'd think the smart thing would have been to keep the car parked in the garage and your backside parked on the couch, hunkered down, binge on Netflix, scroll through Facebook, text friends, and wait it out in the warmth, cocooned, settled in. But for me that night I was hosting a long planned house party for friends from my community choir, and then the next morning, doing church, as me and my faith community do every Sabbath, as we've done for 332 years, something like 17,000 Sundays and counting. 

As both events neared, I was increasingly worried I'd receive a torrent of last minute party regrets and then in the a.m. face sparsely peopled pews in our ancient white meeting house on Main Street.  An empty house at night with way too much food and too few guests, and then a quiet seventh day, maybe a few hardy souls warbling hymns as the radiators clanked and clunked. 

But then...a mini miracle. Community happened instead. Community. Folks actually came.  Folks showed up.  We gathered face to face and heart to heart. Not even the cold and the chill could keep us away. We needed each other.  We needed community.     

So my house party was packed and folks brought hot casseroles and coolers of cold craft beer. Karaoke was sung with gusto late into the night even as ice crystals formed on the inside of the living room windows.  And then on a sharp and clear dawn, church was well stocked too, people greeting one other, praying for peace or for a neighbor with cancer, announcing the birth of a new great-grandchild, sharing ancient rituals with friends and strangers.

All in community.  All in spite of the cold. 

As someone who has been in the community building business for almost thirty years, I know these are strange and challenging days for the hope of bringing people together for a common cause, in common actual places, for the common good, to undertake work or to just play, in common.  The reasons for this are numerous: the death of communal "Sabbath"; 24/7 access to work and technology; racial, political, social and class divides that separate us along sharp lines that seem so uncrossable.

Yet: always we humans need community.  Real community, beyond our phones and computers, our packed schedules and cocooned lives.  Community that gives us gracious time to be with each other and sing with each other and talk to each other and listen to each other and learn from each other and yes, maybe even help each other.  The gift and miracle is that such community still happens, even if it doesn't make the news in these crazy, weird, even scary communal times we find ourselves living within.  Community still happens in choirs and youth groups, in homeless shelters and coffee shops, on playing fields, and neighborhood book groups, anywhere people make the choice to leave isolation, to leave "me" and seek "thee".  

Dorothy Day was right: there is a "long loneliness" within each human heart, a deep spiritual yearning that knows we are created by our Maker for each other.  Even when that's hard.  Even when its wicked cold.  Even when all we want to do is stay inside and keep warm.  But to be truly warm, this I absolutely know. 

I need you.  You need me. We need community.

Anybody up for karaoke?

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