I have always been part of a community. Whether it was the community of military families on the Air Force Base I grew up on or the multiple soccer teams I played on throughout my adolescence, the concept of community has been an important component in my upbringing. And college was no different. I joined a fraternity (and other clubs), volunteered, worked at a camp, and later encouraged others to do the same. Invest. Involve. Believe. This was community for me. I have since mastered the art of “alone time,” however for years I was convinced that community meant being around people at all times. Exhausting, right? I quickly learned that community went beyond the idea of being around other people, and was more so an opportunity to meaningfully associate and engage with others. This was community for me.
One of the attractive pieces of my alma mater was the university president’s belief in, what he identified as, “The Three C’s: Character, Community, and Civility.” My entire college career was built around these foundational values, and I fully bought into this concept. I still do. And now as a resident of Bloomington, Indiana, I continue to be drenched in the belief that community is key, and also that it can truly impact lives.
A few friends and I went on a walk last week, and just as our workout commenced, we came across a tree two doors down from the house of a good buddy of mine. Outside of the house and attached to a large tree in the front yard, we found an outdoor library. Provoked by a simple disclaimer, the instructions to this literary treasure read, “This is a Little Library. Borrow a Book – Bring it back when you are done with it. Leave a book of yours if you want to share it.”
As our walk continued, we stumbled upon yet another outdoor library. I was shocked. Filled with books and an additional disclaimer, it was at this point when I realized that these masterpieces were actually beautiful symbols of community. This is community, I remember thinking. These simple and unique tools to connect represented the power of human interactions, relationships, people, and creativity. “Borrow,” “bring it back,” leave one of yours,” “share.” Connect, believe, involve, engage. This is community.
As these educational gems continue to resonate with me, I am left wondering why we don’t we have more things like this in our neighborhoods. And if we do, why aren’t we taking full advantage of what they can do for others, and what they can do for us? Why don’t I talk to my neighbors more? Why is a treadmill more appealing that a trail or path? What I love most about this city is that community is a huge part of surviving and thriving in this town. People care about this place. People care about each other. People care about people. This is community. I recently volunteered at a community garden, and one of the women in charge of the plots shared that many of the people who garden in that area use the food they are growing as a sole means for substance. This was a powerful moment. People giving time to help others eat (at the core of this essential value). Giving, time, others. Values exemplified. Community exemplified.
In this new week, let us focus on community. Let us foster community. Let us believe in community. Go outside, stretch, say hello. My friends from other parts of the country will often laugh at me because anytime I pass someone on the street or while jogging, I will almost always say hello. It’s what we do. It is not uncommon in Oklahoma to have a full-on conversation with someone you’ve never met. In fact, this is an expectation. June is here, and I cannot think of a better reason to engage others in a meaningful and impacting way. Build relationships. Build community. Just build.