I used to believe that a community was a place you lived. It included the grocer who sold your food, the librarian who kept you abreast the newest releases, the hardware owners who changed the sign each week as the football team took on another league challenge and the church you attended, even if at irregular intervals. It was the old guy who called your dad when you ran a stop sign, the piano teacher who drove you home after you rode your bike to town chasing after the dog, only to realize you couldn’t bike home with dog in tow. Community was the volunteer firefighter who selected the sub-par warm-up music before your basketball games and the local farmer who earned a ringside seat at those games in exchange for keeping people from walking across the end of the gym.
Community was this group of people that were placed in your path simply because you shared space. Specifically State Routes 292 and 31.
Today pushed me over the edge in redefining community. My FB feed filled with wonderful memories of a young boy and the family that loved him so. I only knew Elliot as a tangent acquaintance. He was the rowdy boy who attended many of the same USHS sporting events as I, both rooting at the cross country meet or even a jr. high girls basketball game. His disposition despite challenges made him known and loved by many of the people that I know and love.
So at first I thought it strange that I would mourn such a social acquaintance. This boy, this friend of friends, 3rd-degree-somewhat-removed, sat heavy on my heart. But upon reflection, I realize that when even a singular piece of a community is removed, the entire community hurts. It shares pain, sheds tears and more than anything wants to soothe the raw wound.
Upper Sandusky stole such a large piece of my heart, even for just the 5 years I bore the address. In so many ways my life and my spirit became intertwined with these people in ways that distance does not sever. And now, with many thanks to FB, I still feel connected from afar. I see the events in the lives of those I prayed for, with and on behalf of. I’ve heard their joy or, at this moment, I sense and share their heartache.
Community is no longer the geography in which we find ourselves; it’s the lives we allow to intersect – dare I say invade – our own. Community is not only the faces we see downtown but those that come to mind as we pray, think, read, work and live. They are the individuals who shape you and form you. They are the people who stand out in fond memories, even the seemingly insignificant ones. And in the realm of small towns, they are the cousins and in-laws and students of teachers and in-laws and friends.
So tonight I hurt with and on behalf of those loved ones afar, and I believe I join many diasporic Upper Sanduskians in doing so. Even though we don’t share space on a map, community has become, to me, those who share roots in the places where you’ve not just grown up but also grown into your life as you know it.