Approaching the door, I reviewed my plan… walk in to the room, find a seat near the back and occupy myself checking emails and text messages to avoid conversation.
And yes, I knew the group called itself “Study and Share”… but I was planning to avoid that ‘share’ stuff… not happening… no way…
“What?”, was my immediate thought upon opening the door of the study group I had registered to join. “Take a number and find the corresponding table? No, that’s not how I planned this…” What to do now?
Although the thought occurred to discreetly turn around and leave, heading to the quiet safety of my car and home, I ‘braved up’, took a number and found myself sitting at Table Seven… a group of strangers… women of varying ages… women of varying ethnic backgrounds… some very open and engaging… a few shy souls like myself. And so began my journey into “community”.
Community, as defined by Webster, is a unified body of individuals such as people with common interests living in a particular area. So, take out the ‘living’ concept for a moment… what did I have in common with this table of ladies? We were all women. We were all there by choice… in our case for a Bible study. Was that enough to create ‘community’? Oh, how much I had to learn!
And, in short, what I learned is that ‘being in community’ is simply (well, maybe not simply but worth the work!) opening yourself to engaging with, sharing with, growing with, learning with. Community is listening to those who are different than you – age, race, profession and so much more – really listening – and finding yourself wiser as a result. Community is being vulnerable – sharing thoughts that might be different from others, and knowing that it is ‘safe’ to do that. Community is the start of friendships… it’s when you find yourself looking forward to future time together, future conversations.
Back to Table Seven… in that year together our ‘community’ had a member who lost her husband, a member who was facing a cancer diagnosis, a member with a new baby and family living very far away, a member who had just gone through divorce, a member burdened by concerns about ‘almost’ adult children, and ever so much more. We were ‘motley’, so to speak… from young and newly married to elderly and retired… native to our region and transplants who were just learning where the best grocery store, coffee shop, doctor were. From that first evening, when we sat in trepidation that someone would ask us a question, we grew to not being finished when the evening was done, and continuing our conversations throughout the week. And from that ‘community’ – more than ten years ago – grew friendships, some casual and some very deep and lasting where very thoughtful conversations still occur.
So, the lesson? Seek out a ‘community’ – a book club, a mothers’ group, an exercise class, a Bible study – open yourselves to the potential, and grow… I’m so very glad I did, and I think you will as well.
Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, wrote, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” And Helen Keller, American author and activist who was both deaf and blind, said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Join a ‘community’… or create one – it will change your life!