The Power of Community

I spent a large portion of my day today grieving and processing the loss of a mentor and friend. In my own grief and sadness I could not help but watch the storm of messages being written on the walls of family members and the continual updates in news feeds about this man, and the impact he had on so many individual lives and the legacy he has left behind…. Hundreds of messages sent to his wife, words of encouragement and support and shared grief. His son made a post with a tribute to his dad part way through today, and over 270 likes and close to a hundred comments were displayed in response. This a community that bans together, shares in the joys and the sorrows. They show up. They make phone calls, mail cards, bring food and meals, send flowers and offer their hands anywhere they are needed. This is a community I have been a part of for the majority of my life and have taken for granted. 

Today as I watched the support stream in from every angle possible for this family, I was awestruck. While reaching out to my own set of connections and friends to share this painful moment with, I could not help but feel a sense of gratitude for community and all that it provides. The ability to know that someone else is there and they know what you’re going through and they want to be there for you. Powerful and life altering.

I have watched families go through this sort of tragedy countless times, and it is powerful to step back and see what a community can do for a family or individual, to rally around them and share in their journey. What I have witnessed is an enormous amount of strength and courage and an incredible resilience that rises up in these families and individuals that are surrounded by support systems, and not left to process life’s journey on their own. There is a shared space that we experience when we are aware that we are not alone, that someone cares, that somewhat has witnessed the unfolding of our day. 

In her 2004 movie “Shall We Dance”, Susan Sarandon has a scene where she describes why people marry;

”We need a witness to our lives.  There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything.  The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day.  You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.  Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”

This is one of the most powerful descriptions that I have ever heard regarding the real reason for marriage or commitment. A community can be each and every one of these things. Whether large or small, new or old, religious or professional, a neighborhood or organization. A group of people that join together in one way or another and end up forming a connection, a bond. We congregate together in order to share our lives, to bare witness to others lives and support and share in them, to find encouragement and care and concern, to seek wisdom and learn from one another. We are social beings, made to connect with one another, and to co-create meaning as we live our lives. 

One of the greatest tragedies that I see is when someone isn’t sharing their life with someone else. This does not need to be a marriage or family I’m talking about someone who isn’t connected, and doesn’t have others in their immediate world who bare witness to their life. We are not beings that function best or even well in isolation or solidarity.  We are social. We are fragile. We are vulnerable. We need an other in our world, to make it real, to bring it meaning, to simply survive. 

We attach to the person who is there for us most, and we attach securely when that person is consistent and reliable and unconditional in their care-concern. When attachment needs go unmet, illness and disease show up, they begin to infiltrate our minds and our bodies and wrecking havoc. 

The beautiful reality is that attachment begins between two individuals and has the ability to grow and expound from there. The growth of a community, the connection of a group of individuals is not instant and does not happen overnight. It happens in the mundane everyday realities of each of our lives. As we reach out, as we open up, as we allow others to share in our journey, we are invited in and gifted with the opportunity to share in theirs. To give and take, to grow and share, to expand. It starts simply, it happens slowly, but these encounters-exchanges of words or actions begin to build bridges of connection. They begin to foster friendship. And one day you realize that you are surrounded by people who know you and care about you and for whom you would do pretty much anything for.

You find that you are a part of a community, of a whole, and you are a small part, but a necessary part that allows the whole to exist. You find that you are more resilient than you ever imagined, that you are stronger than you ever thought possible and you are not alone.

Tonight I am challenging us to connect. I am challenging each and every one of us to connect in some small or big way. To reach out, to get involved, to share, to give, to open, to receive and to engage in the building of a community, even if that community begins with two. 

Hope Monger

I had an incredible professor in grad school who used to tell us on a regular basis that the greatest purpose that we had in our job was to have hope. He said that clients would come to us when they were struggling with finding hope or they had already lost all hope, and what they needed most was to have someone else have enough hope for them to lean on. I remember this standing out to me as the single most powerful comment in a lecture that I had heard through all of grad school. Even now, years later, I bring those words to mind and hold onto them with fervor.

 The other day I had a client sitting in my office sharing her own experience in working with people who are struggling to get by and who are hurting for hope. As she sat there with tears in her eyes, expressing how helpless she feels in doing anything to change their reality, or even give them anything of value for problems so big, I found myself resonating with her on so many levels. Hope is what came to my mind. All any of us really need when we are feeling overwhelmed or lost or lonely or tired or scared, is hope. And when we cannot connect to or find hope on our own, we lean on someone else who has it, as though it were our lifeline.

 Perhaps hope is our lifeline. Perhaps if we were able to call on hope or even fall into hope when we are feeling like we have no other option, then we might just rest there gently until we find enough strength to get back up.

 I sat with a woman who’s dear friend was recently killed in an accident over the past few weeks and I grieved alongside her, and amidst her pain and suffering and questions and doubts, her loneliness and her quest for connection, I heard her clinging to a hope.

 I have sat with a mother and father who were tragically processing a loss of innocence of their 5-year-old daughter, who were racked with guilt and questions and anger and sadness. I heard them asking if there was hope beyond this pain.

 I have listened as a mother pours out her heart, overwhelmed with regret and doubt as she questions why her daughters are in such horrible circumstances, and addicted and wounded. I hear her ask what is next. I hear her inquiring of hope.

 I have listened to countless others grieving, anxious, depressed, angry, addicted, confused, isolated and infringed, lost and insecure. There are days that my own heart becomes heavy and somewhat disillusioned by the amount of pain and suffering that goes around in this world and touches each and every one of us at one point or another.

 At the end of the day, I rest in the hope of healing. I rest in knowing that acceptance and peace are possible. I rest in the belief that all is not lost, and that good is still possible. That broken relationships can be healed. That while innocence may not be fully regained, that strength and perseverance are powerful tools for overcoming. I rest in the fact that addicts can get clean, that abusers can stop abusing, that we can learn to forgive and that we as human beings can dig deep and show up for one another. We can learn to be present in a way that literally heals the person we are being present for, and if that does not instill hope, I cannot imagine what will. 

Giant Turtle

My husband and I bought a giant stuffed turtle for our daughter this past week. It’s kind of a mix of a blanket and a pillow, and a stuffed animal and it is incredibly soft.

We brought it home and opened it up and laid it on the floor in our living room. She walked into the room and walked directly over to it like it had been there all along, and she crawled on top of it laying her face right in the middle, and then summoned us to join her. So there we lay on the turtle in the middle of the living room floor, all three of us with our heads side by side. After a few seconds went by she simply got up and directed us off the turtle and onto other activities.

It was one of those moments as a parent of a toddler where a few things run through your mind consecutively; 1) Apparently she likes the turtle, 2) How precious that she wanted us all together on it, 3) It would be weird if someone walked into the room right now, 4) Why don’t we pause and do things like this more often?

For those of you who are not parents, I ask for forgiveness for all the analogies and life lessons share that I am learning as a parent… But there are many and they are layered and they are mind blowingly life changing.

 What makes me write a blog entitled “giant turtle”? Well as I thought about what I could share with others about my angle on life, this giant turtle just kept staring at me (literally). And the reality is that everyday since we bought this turtle a week ago, she has done the very same thing, laying herself down on the middle and then beckoning anyone else in the room to join her for a brief pause…. So what started out as a fun animal for her playroom, became this family bonding, perspective giving turtle.

 Why is it perspective giving? Because it makes me wonder what’s so special about this object and what allows it to draw us together in a way that our couch does not. And I wonder what goes on in my daughters mind as she goes about this ritual each day.

 It makes me pause and be present, quite literally as I lay my head down beside hers and look over at her or up to the ceiling, I am nowhere else but right there on that turtle with my daughter. So why does this stand out to me? I suppose it’s because it is rare that I am present right here in this moment, and not drawn elsewhere in my thoughts.  In our house it is also rare to lay still, we are not what you would term “laid back” kind of people.

 So what is my take away? What is the point of all this? I think it’s that we all need a giant turtle… or at least some equivalent of.  We all need a space that we can pause in, and be present for ourselves and for one another, and we all need the ability to connect, even on the simplest level or form.

I don’t know what your space might look like or what exactly will bring it about for you. But I’m encouraging each of us to create a space, however small, however unique. A space to pause, be present, be still and just BE. With the hope that this short pauses will bring meaning and purpose to all the other long and arduous ones!Image