What does community mean to you?

By Caitlin Kelly

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Is it your town?

City?

Neighborhood?

Your running/cycling/yoga pals?

Your place of worship?

Maybe all of these…

I’ve lived in five countries and seven cities and towns in my life. That’s a lot for some, and nothing for people like TCK’s, third culture kids who move a lot around the world, with parents in the media, military or missionaries, to name only three.

It’s when, how and and where you find a sense of community, of truly belonging to a tribe of like-minded people, that intrigues me.

For some of us — like you, here! — it’s on-line. A place, 24/7, we know we’ll find some other fun, cool people who share our beliefs or concerns. It might be a widows’ support group or gamers or people coping with a chronic illness.

Real-life community interests me the most because that’s where, you should pardon the phrase, shit gets real. On-line people can quickly block, unfriend or delete posts they dislike or disagree with.

Face to face? Meeting people of different religions, politics, races and nationalities is what makes community vibrant, in my view. It’s where we hear different perspectives and learn (or practice!) our social skills. It’s where we see the value, at best, in one another and our individual and shared experiences.

It’s where diplomacy, tact, civility keep us from utter mayhem.

On a good day.

Our view of the Hudson River
Our view of the Hudson River

I belong to several communities, each of which nurture me in different ways:

a local Episcopal church. I attend infrequently, usually every 4 to 6 weeks or so. I’ve been attending there since 1998, though, so am known and know others to some degree. The people there are generally my age or older, many of them far wealthier and more politically conservative. No one seems to really understand what I do for a living or why. But I also think it valuable for us to be there for that reason, to meet “the other.”

a co-ed softball team. We’ve been playing together for 15 years. In a place like New York City, where work and family always trump anything else, that’s pretty amazing. I love these people. We range in age from 20s to 60s, from lawyers and doctors to a retired ironworker, editors, schoolteachers. When one of our members recently died, more than a dozen of us drove hours to his memorial service to show our love and respect for him and his widow. Here’s an essay I wrote about them for The New York Times.

several writers’ groups, both on-line and off-line. As someone who’s been earning her living as a journalist for decades, I need to know my industry intimately and hear what others are up to. I offer advice and support, as others do for me.

My desk -- Twitter allows me to connect globally, quickly and easily
My desk — Twitter allows me to connect globally, quickly and easily

my dance classes. I’ve been studying ballet and jazz for decades and take a jazz dance class every Monday and Friday (when I am being consistent!) I’ve gotten to know my teachers personally and really value the camaraderie they create in their classrooms. My fellow students live in my town and I run into them at the grocery store, concerts, on the street. I like that.

— our apartment building. It’s hard for me to even believe it, but I’ve lived in the same apartment for more than 20 years. So I’ve gotten to know some of my neighbors quite well as it’s the sort of place people like to stay, often moving into in their 70s and beyond. I’ve watched people’s children grow up and go to and graduate from college. As someone without children or close relative with children, it’s a way to mark the passage of time.

Which communities do you belong to and why?

How do they nurture you — and vice versa?

27 thoughts on “What does community mean to you?

  1. I have a bunch of communities around me. There’s my writing and blogging communities (they often overlap, as you can probably guess), where we discuss what’s going on in our lives and the tricks of writing and publishing. The Jewish community, which is always somewhere near me, and where I get my spiritual fix either through prayer or study groups. In college I felt like I was part of one giant family brought together by common goals (academic excellence) and interests (go Buckeyes!).
    And there’s my military community, which I’ve become really fond of recently, and for many good reasons. Maybe it’s because of a common mission and the fact that we’ve all become somewhat displaced because of that mission, but we try as hard as we can to work and live together in harmony. Heck, when the bus home was cancelled one time, three new soldiers I’d never met before offered me a ride to the commissary so I could do my grocery shopping, and I trusted them completely. You don’t find many places where complete strangers can do that for each other.

  2. I believe that community is so immensely valuable. Being part of a community brings enrichment to life itself. It makes living more interesting and it opens up opportunities to build relationships and further them, helping them to flourish through community events, activities, etc. I think it would be amazing if everybody was involved in their communities. There are endless possibilities for community initiatives to be involved in. A person can join any sort of club these days, most times for free! This means that people can meet with others that enjoy the same interests, hobbies, etc. It’s amazing! If everybody was involved in community, I truly believe that nobody would feel alone. There are numerous online communities. I, for one, am a member of: Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, StumbleUpon, Twitter, WordPress, and other. Online communities can be effective, entertaining, helpful, and what not but there is nothing like real-life communities. Real-life community is like real-life emotion, not ‘LOL’ or silly emoticons. As for me, I am part of the Brock University Community, the Mohawk College community, Canadian Public Relations Society and I am currently diving into the community world of Girl Guides and YMCA. These bring me such passion and joy, online communities just aren’t the same. Real-life communities provide for a pure feeling of happiness for me. They’re happening in the current moment, I’m putting my efforts in. Real life communities just can’t be faked, I could argue that online communities can. I truly believe that the most important thing in life is human connection and communities are extremely rich in relationships… I doubt there are any real-life communities around the world that are unhappy to be together because we choose to be a part of a community.

  3. I love that your communities are by choice. Mine have been by default–kid’s school (parents), colleagues, etc. Your post is a good reminder to me to choose more consciously.

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  5. in my life it’s family, friends, boyfriend, neighborhood, school and city. i talk about what ‘community’ means with my kinders, and they inevitably decide it is ‘people who care about you.’ i think they are right.

      1. yes, you are so right, caitlin. and perhaps they are too young to yet understand that caring about others is an option and that they do it as a matter of course, without conscious thought. i hope they keep that approach, to care about others is natural and just what you do.

      2. so right, and we talk about it often, as they assume everyone cares about everyone else and sadly will understand the truth far too soon. all we can do is to teach them that they can each make a difference by caring about others and hope they keep that close to their hearts and teach others while living the same.

  6. Online communities are great! I have made real connections through blogging and I like to keep my blogging circle fairly small so that I can build up connections. I have a few blogging friends who keep in touch via email — we talk about our lives and share our thoughts. In fact, I have spoken more honestly with one blogging friend than I have with ‘real life’ friends because I knew that she would understand what I was going through — we’re both young, in our twenties, figuring out our lives and careers…

    But it’s important to me to find offline communities too. As part of my work and my academic research, I spent a lot of time in front of a screen. Although I enjoy my job and my research, staring at a screen is tiring! I’d like to work on finding a deeper sense of community offline.

    1. That’s becoming the harder part for me, and maybe for everyone. I, too, spend a lot of time at a screen, alone…so I make sure to sked in playdates and face to face meetings for work and social fun.

      But community is still a different experience than one or two close friends.

  7. I seem to have one or two friends from all the places I’ve lived/worked/studied/travelled, and that makes up the group of people I turn to for laughs/support/creative swearing/in-jokes Very few of them know each other, though. Which made my wedding a very interesting thing!

    You know we recently moved. The people I’m missing the most are my friends from a mother and baby group I was in. I’ve been to a group up here, but it’s early days/not the same.

    But all these people and my American family and friends are all on FB. Sad or not, that’s the closest thing I have to community these days.

    And I guess this out-of-touch feeling is another reason why I’m trying to re-boot my blog.

    1. We are going to come visit you!!! One more reason to get to Skye…before Isla is a teenager.

      I live in a NYC suburb where most women my age are corporate warriors (gone all day, exhausted at night) or stay at home mothers/grandmothers…I have a very hard time relating to most of them as a result. Thus my dance/sports/writing pals really get me and vice versa.

      1. We would love to have you! Most of my friends who are also Mums had their first in their 3os, and the ones I’m really close to are also internationals. So there’s that.

      2. Maybe next summer…We loved our 3 weeks in Ireland (Jose’s 1st visit) and he has never been to Scotland either. I spent my 12th summer in a small cottage in Monzievaird, near Crieff, so I know a bit of it.

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