We just wrapped up an outdoor movie night in our apartment complex. As Community Coordinators, Grete and I get to plan periodic events for the community – this time we did an outdoor movie (that almost got rained out – it rained all day in Pasadena! I haven’t seen that in the whole year we’ve lived here!).
I’ve seen two movies in the last three days that have had strong messages about community. This time it was Pixar’s Cars. I love some of the messages in kids’ flicks. Maybe they’re just simple enough for me to understand! (That red car realized that winning isn’t everything – who we help along the way and how we get there matters! Got it!) But I get almost choked up any time a movie has a loner who is going his own way, runs into a group of people who show him life is about more than just his plans, has to go to some big thing from his previous life, and the whole group of his new friends come through at the last minute to support/help him out in some way. That “one guy (or gal) helping others out and then seeing the community come together to support him (or her) in the end” theme gets me every time!
Grete and I also saw an advanced screening of Into the Wild Thursday night. Good book, pretty good movie. But here’s what stood out to me (and I don’t think I’m giving anything away – it’s a book you probably had to read in high school or college anyway, but be warned…). Toward the end of the movie, this rebel, free spirited kid who’s running from a family he doesn’t respect and working to get away from everything finally writes in his journal that “happiness is meaningless unless it’s shared.” He trekked to the middle of nowhere to “find himself” and find true happiness. But once he got there, he realized that part of “himself” and “happiness” is dependent upon others.
So what’s the point? Why does it matter? I work with small groups, so community always matters on that easy, job-type, “we all need connections!” level. But it’s more than that. It’s personal. I grew up trying to do it alone. I wanted relationships – closeness – but was often too afraid or too proud to commit and open up. It took a risk, and it took work. So instead, I hid behind busyness and excellence. I did a lot of things, and I did them well. I figured if I impressed people, than they’d see me as impressive and like me. Or, at least, want to be like me. I’d be polished, serious, and busy. Better to look like you’re busy, important, and on a mission than sitting around with nothing to do and no one to talk to, right?
But that only goes so far. Eventually you just realize you’re walking around with a serious look on your face, doing important thing, but not really close to anyone.
College started me on a slow process of opening up – trusting people – enjoying life together. Marriage has continued to show me the deep value of being truly known and of accepting others in the midst of the ways they’re different from you. Happiness is meant to be shared. But it’s a different kind of happiness than we get alone. I think it’s better because it takes work. That work grows us. It’s not always easy, but it’s right.
I tell our small groups that we weren’t meant to live life alone, and it’s more than just a catchphrase. I know we need each other. Some of us are blessed with the natural ability to reach out, connect, and live in that kind of community with others. But more of us are too shy, too busy, too prideful, or too guarded for it to come as a first instinct. Some people are good at being “kinda” friends with everyone. Others, best buds with a deep few. We all need each of those connections, and we all need to work for them. If connections come easily, we need to work on making them inclusive – reaching out to new people. If they don’t, it’s takes a choice to dive in and enjoy life together – both in the broad, “meet lots of people” sense and the deep, “I really know you” sense.
So I guess the question is, how are you at community? Are you initiating it? Running from it? Reacting to the community others create? When there are new folks around, are you intentionally including them?
What’s your story of community?