One day each month, I lead a well-being discussion over lunch in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. (Details can be found here) The talks are part philosophy, part psychology. There is a tentative spirituality that often creeps in, and is always welcomed. But at their core, the dialogues are human, rich in the poetics of a people having to navigate a life.
This week one of my friends (they are all friends) raised the need for a heart community among atheists and others that did not share a defined, otherworldly faith. He had been brought up in one of the Christian sects with its gatherings and public communion. And with everything good and sweet it had offered, it also drew boundaries. Boundaries that affirmed its members and held them together, but that also excluded and kept others bereft of their concern.
Of course, he has many good, trusting friends. They are open and share an ethic and respect for persons. But they did not gather on weekends to celebrate or sing. They did not pass the basket to help a neighbor in need. They just went about their lives being good and kind, dropping the kids off at school and driving to the office each day. They just kept doing the things we all do on this necessary treadmill which rarely lets us step off to breathe.
Certainly, there are many practices and faiths that leave the sanctuary doors open. But often, those communities are only held together by a membrane, glistening and glimmering, but thin. Love for the universal humanity. It is beautiful, but common and impersonal. What he needed, what I and most of us need, is someone to love us, personally, with all of our weaknesses and faults.
Where does community come from? Can we ever do what Hierocles said? Take the concentric circles of our lives – self, family, kin, precinct, country and the whole of the human race – and pull each individual toward the center? To hold them all personally and dearly? I don’t know. I can only strive for an ideal. I can only work and adjust and work some more, to bring the world a little closer to what it could be, to what it really is, when it is its best.
In this, I find my community. The many circles in my life are not concentric. They are more like oases of shelter placed discretely through my day; at the office, at home, at the corner store and brewpub.
Sometimes its members come together, over nachos by a fire to discuss and make the real the beauty of an idea. But often they never meet. They might stand in coffee shops side-by-side waiting for a latte or espresso, without ever knowing they are each one of the caring.
But all of them, my community of friends, exhibit the best of humanity. Each one inspires me in some way, and makes me better than who I am.
There are those who teach me the sacred truths of the tulsi plant, or who live thoughtfully and deliberately and make things with their hands. Some join me at 6:00 a.m. in the cold to sit in silence with the sunrise, or call at 1:00 in the morning to discuss Levinas, King Kong or King Lear. We talk about the joys and struggles of parenting and try to raise our children gently. There are friends that I never see who send me texts in the middle of the day to remind me of the good things. Because the good things are all around us. And there are those venerable souls who take in the forsaken, and take on the heartache, or who care for vulnerable, making themselves vulnerable too. And of course, there are those dear, dear friends who make me laugh and remind me to play. Those who say “yes” when I suggest biking deep in the woods after dark, or taking an all night bus to New Orleans to let the music wash over me.
There is so much more I can say. So many more people to thank, and to whom I bow. Community is everywhere, decentralized and open sourced. And while we may not all sit together in praise, they are all with me, always.
Let the people around you soften your heart. You will be enriched, encircled and embraced by a community of absolute and genuine care.
© 2017 John Albert Doyle, Jr., All Rights Reserved.