It’s a word typically used to describe a characteristic of a group of living beings. It’s been used in many different, and quite varied, settings. “Homeless community”. “Church community”. It’s a way that people categorize themselves, identify themselves, and label themselves and others, good and bad. Some communities carry a negative connotation. Some make people appear more esteemed than what’s warranted in reality. A very simplified definition of the word “community” is a group of living things sharing the same environment. At the most simplified interpretation of that definition, it implies that every living being is in a community with another living being. We are all in. We all belong. Yet, we don’t. As humans, we instinctively try to find a pecking order where someone appears to exist at a higher tier than another, for whatever reason. A rich person feels superior to a poor person. Someone with a roof over their head is superior to a homeless person. Someone with a lighter skin color is considered by some to be superior to someone with a darker skin color.
Why? Why do we use the very thing, community, that brings us all together to separate and debase other living beings? I make up that we – all of us – are insecure about our own place in community. I submit that we have an inherent fear of not belonging, not being included, not being seen. I believe that many of us greatly curb and scale back our own individuality in order to fit into expectations and perceptions of a specific community. We are conditioned from birth to conform, fit in, modify behavior, believe so that we can belong. We teach our children to do this because it’s what we were taught. And the cycle continues.
“Be quiet.” “Use your inside voice.” “Don’t speak to me in that tone.” These are all things I personally heard during my childhood. However, it’s taken me 51 years to love the fact that my loudness walks into a room before I do. I was reminiscing with family a few days ago about the time when I was five years old on a routine Friday night sleepover at my grandfather’s home. I was already in bed, as was he, when I asked for a glass of water. Exasperated, he told me no, that it was time to go to sleep. I responded, “All I want are my rights.” Who could have known what a prophecy that would become? It’s my earliest memory of randomly pissing off family members with my words and actions. 46 years later, it’s evolved into an art form. I’ve managed to alienate a mother, a sister-in-law, a brother, innumerable aunts and uncles, and cousins by simply being loud, opinionated, and unapologetically living my truest, most authentic life. And that’s just my kinfolk. Just imagine how quickly I can piss off people who aren’t related to me.
That has most assuredly impacted my space in community. Some have thrown me away. Some have taken me in. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way about community.
- I’ve always had a voice. I had to learn how to use it effectively, and become indifferent to how others expected me to use it.
- I exist to pull others into community, even while I am discarded from it.
- I don’t have to agree with others to love them, and I have the capacity to love them even while they are hurting me.
- Family is not blood. They are relatives. Family is who stands beside you through the good, the bad, and everything in between. Pay attention to who those people are and appreciate them.
- My pain always has a purpose.
I’ve paid close attention the last few years to the community around me. I’ve become selective about what I allow into my life. I exist in several communities today. I am part of a recovery community, activist community, female community, gay community, family community, animal parent community, empathy community, empty nester community, real estate community, medical community, writing community, and spiritual community. Not a single one of these communities defines who I am. I used to be part of a relative community, church community, soccer mom community, single parent community, student community, corporate community. Not one of those communities ever defined who I am. Most importantly, I’m hyper aware of the simplified community to which I belong.
Humans are such funny creatures. We need to belong. We need it like the very air we breathe. We seek it out in the oddest of places such as gangs, drugs, bars, recovery rooms, and other places when we are discarded from one where we thought we belonged. And we find it. Whether or not we survive it is a different story. We always find it.
I’m grateful today for community, a group of living things sharing the same environment. I’m even more grateful for those who gift it freely to others. I aspire to be someone who creates community. If you are non-residenced, non-Caucasian, non-Christian, non-affluent, non-gender identified, non-female, non-male, non-straight, non-gay, non-married, or any other thing that makes you feel like you are separate, you belong here. I encourage you to stop being “non”.
Find your voice.
Use your pain.
Be who you are, and know that you are valued. You belong. You are my community, and you have a place here.