How Many Communities Do You Belong To?

1987 GE Softball Team
Go team! Loving the camaraderie...Image by Bitman via Flickr

I loved a recent post by a young Canadian man teaching English in Korea, about his belated discovery of belonging to a trivia team and its pleasures.

I grew up in a family of, if not lone wolves, non-joiners.

Team spirit? Not so much.

My father, mother and stepmother were all freelance creatives: film, television, magazine journalism, almost always done working from home, sitting at a desk piled with papers, an ashtray overflowing (step-mom), a cold cup of milky coffee defining our “office.”

No one ever worked for The Man, or could count on paid vacation and sick days or a pension.

No one went to church or synagogue or played a team sport or joined a club or organization. My two brothers and I have all been nationally ranked athletes and super-competitive jocks, but usually in individual sports (riding, rally car racing, skateboarding, fencing.)

So it’s been an eye-opener to see what pleasures lie within community, not defined geographically — as it classically is for most of us — but through interests. After my divorce in 1994, alone in the ‘burbs with little cash and no pets or kids to pull me into those groups naturally, I started racing on sailboats of all sizes as a crew member, and did that for about five fun years.

My communities, now, include:

— the board, and 1,400 membership of, the American Society of Journalists and Authors

— the board of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, a body that grants up to $5,000 quickly to writers in desperate financial straits

— a co-ed softball team that includes a literary agent, a pastry chef for a Big New York restaurant, high school teachers, a medical editor, a retired ironworker, an orthopedic surgeon and a cantor. We’ve played Softball Lite for more than eight years right until the ground freezes and the snow flies, and I love them dearly. Here’s my love letter to them that ran in The New York Times.

— my Episcopal church, an uneasy fit  for me and my sweetie (both career journos) in that most of its members are wealthy, conservative and work in finance, law or high-level corporate jobs. But I’ve been there since 1998 and have made a few good friends. St. B’s and its pastors and assistant ministers has seen me through some major crises

I never really thought about “community” in this way until I read the obit of the sister of a dear friend of mine. When I called him to offer my condolences, he said, “I never knew how many communities she had.” It made me realize how many we enjoy, far beyond our traditional and individual roles of friend, daughter/son, wife/husband, partner, employee/boss.

Being a member of a community, de facto, shapes you. Every group has its own character, standards, acceptable (and not) forms of behavior, interaction and address, how to handle conflict or disagreement.

In Softball Lite, for example, we all know (and love) that cell phones are verboten and no one is allowed to freak out or berate a fellow player for a bobble or error. The operative word — in hyper-competitive New York where we are all so hungry for a friendly break — is Lite.

What communities have you joined?

What do you get — and give — as a result?

Has it changed you?

10 thoughts on “How Many Communities Do You Belong To?

  1. What a lovely tribute in the NYT. It seems harder to find these communities, or tribes as I call them, the older that you get. When you’re a child, all the way through college, the communities are built in for better or worse: Brownies, soccer, sororities. Most people are in the joining mode. Later everyone seems already part of a group and maybe not as accepting of opening up to new people. It takes something really special like your softball lite to keep people coming back.

    1. I got really lucky with my softball team…It’s a great mix of people who share so many of the things in my life, from writing to dealing with all sorts of physical injuries; we have one guy who had a huge transplant (heart? lung? weeks in the hospital) and still runs all the bases. We have a longevity and deep mutual affection that is rare and really special at midlife.

      I did love my sail racing friends and my saber fencing friends; the trick is showing up 1-4 times a week, every week, for years….I could now add my pool aerobics class since I’ve been there twice a week since January 2010 and now feel a member of it, even if I am 10-30 years younger than many of them.
      Not having kids and not having to focus on aging/ill relatives — which many people must — allows me the free time to do this sort of thing,

  2. Community, belonging is important for mental and physical health. Over my years I’ve belonged to many groups and led a few mostly during the years my kids were growing up. I’m in a small town now, for the past year, my husband is a loner, my friends are all ‘back home’, and I haven’t had any luck finding something I’d enjoy being involved with…but it will happen eventually. Just have to get up away from desk now and then and get out in the world. Great post and loved all the info on your interesting life!

    1. You have a great attitude towards this…I lived for 18 months in Lebanon, NH and it was very, very difficult to find a community as we were not married and did not have kids. But I found one! I attended a local auction every week for months and got to know some of the dealers and learned a ton about antiques in the process. I even drove 90 minutes each way to Historic Deerfield to take a fantastic class in connoisseurship, which also taught me a great deal.

      Gotta bloom where you’re planted.

  3. How many communities do we really belong to?

    I feel, personally, that I belong to a theater community (by way of work), a gay community (and that bond is especially strong after last Friday’s approval of same sex marriage in NY), a family community (even though we all seem to grow apart year after year), a dog community (Frenchie lovers all over NY unite!), among others.

    I enjoy how they ground me. I will always be a theater artist in NY, thanks to the connections I have and not necessarily to the work I do. I’m gay; there is a community around me that helps me deal with the issues of living in America and trying to be a real citizen. My dog has made me a big contributing presence in my community.

    They all, and many more, give me purpose. They fill my time; honestly, I feel like the questions, demands, and commitment they demand make me a better HUMAN. Not person, but human.

  4. What a fantastic question! I’ve never thought of community in this way either.

    I belong to three professional associations (and some sub-associations within them), which provide me with opportunities to continue my education and keep with changes within the field through their publications, conferences, and other resources. I participate through research presentations at the conferences and the occasional publication.

    I’m a member of a belly dance troupe, which provides me with lots of fluffy girly time, friendship, fitness, and fun. What I give in return is encouragement, the occasional new choreography, and occasional seamstress skills.

    I’m a member of a knitting group, comprised of close family and friends, which provides me with productive family time and an endless supply of knitted hats and scarves. It also serves as a creative outlet. My contribution here is organizer and maker of the vegetarian dish at the meetings.

    Through the university community (i.e., my job) I’m constantly learning and teaching and being exposed to new ideas.

    And the past two weeks I’ve been at an ashram living in the most communal environment I’ve ever encountered. I’m still processing the many lessons learned in that community. I worked my rear off at that place – in the garden, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, etc.

    1. I love this variety!

      Physical, intellectual, creative, spiritual….I think we’re all completely multi-faceted and we need to nurture all our different sides. It seems like work/sex are the only two (zzzzz) that the popular culture/media consider important.

  5. Pingback: Day 5: Community

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