I walked among my neighbors today at the behest of the mending little dog who owns me, both of us exulting quietly in the regularity of it all: a parade and Mexican fiesta night, a long weekend of tournaments (baseball, softball, volleyball, and some sort of bean-bag tossing game at which these folks excel), bouncy ball slides and houses and weave posts, an American Legion Post barbecue, a Presbyterian ice cream and pie social, an old-time concession stand, bingo under one shelter and live music (rockabilly, country-western, and light blues) under another, and people from all our generations in this village coming together to sit in the shade, work the stands, cavort in the pools, picnic, and cheer each other on and/or play hard and friendly, re-enlivening community in the ways common to here. It does a body good, and provides a balm to a spirit that cannot be measured.
I’m from the south and unaccustomed still to being around mostly white people, but most of these are of the working classes to which I am joined for good–not just by birth, but by choice now, decisions constantly re-made every day. Our differences–political, historical, experiential–no longer build walls between us, as we are all treasuring community more than ever, period, no matter what, and to that end one could do worse than show up week after week, year after year, to make events like this reliable.
I love the elders, patiently serving pie and sodas, rounding up the trash, checking to make sure everyone is welcomed: nearly all of them are well enough off now to fly the coop for travel and being entertained and making the world their oysters on half shells, but instead they stay here and do this. I love the middling sorts, women and men my age hurrying around supervising to make sure no one gets hurt and that the grilling equipment gets set up and taken down, manning small booths of crafts and vegetables and skin-care products, setting their children loose and keeping an eye on all so that not a one does without family for a day, shepherding parents into and through the last years of their lives and grandchildren into and through the first of theirs. I love the younger ones I knew as children and teens (lifeguards back when!), who now are teachers at the school or dental hygienists or nurses or factory workers, embarking on families of their own. I love that even my hermit little self has a long history here now, and that people smile and welcome even a southerner among them, and that the band played Sweet Home Alabama and then, one short verse in, tried to morph that into Sweet Home Wisconsin, but they don’t have the same feel for adding needed syllables to words so the four of Alabama got shortened to only the three of Wisconsin and if they’d just known how to drag out that Wi-ii-s part like my people do, they could’ve had four syllables to the state and no one the wiser for it. I love that I laughed and sung along and cut it down to three like everybody else and it really didn’t matter that much to the language after all.
It reminds me of how my mother taught us to rescue wild animals and provide them comfort and food and water and a safe place to grow up. Raccoons, deer, squirrels, rabbits, birds, crippled dogs: you name it, we helped it. Some arrived shivering and injured, refugees from violence unimaginable, barely alive. We were the boat of mercy. Our place was their refuge. No one was allowed to harm them; and every resource we could turn to their benefit was applied, unstintingly: even our dogs understood these rules. So the instincts of fear, of having been prey for generations past, would soon lie down and leave and, as these wild ones lived amongst us unassailed, our lives shifted, too.
There is a stillness that comes to the soul in the heart of darkness, of destruction to the bone, of dearly beloved lives being ended with no recourse, of violence without surcease and death without distinctions, but its counterpart carries the other end of being as well. Stillness comes in the busy midst of community, too, when one is safe and unharmed long enough that just being matters. In terror, people pay keener attention; they know the raw, bitter edges of living and cannot opt to become unaware. In safety and peace, people pay attention, too, but are often lost in the moment and so easily miss how the onion-skin between a me and a thee begins to vanish, one permeating the other, both present and not presently adrift. The space between breath and the grave feels much closer in terror than in peace, as destruction carries a heavier immediate toll, and yet anyone who is even halfway awake in this world now is carrying some sense of themselves and their lives as caught up in these epic struggles of elsewhere. Often helpless to do anything meaningful to assist those who are suffering, people do what they can do of a day. They get up, put their feet on the floor, carry on.
I love that people come together and try to make of a place a home. Aware that the world is breaking all about us–of this no one can remain unaware anymore–people are still coming together in their places and doing what they can to be decent and good to each other. Here they are working systematically to make that community more open to more people and more kinds of people (and not just southerners, of course), and seeing them do this heartens me, gladdens my spirit, offers proof that human beings, when given a whiff of a chance, can be and are congenial and goodhearted. How I wish the joy and sharing could be carried aloft in the perilous winds of existence somehow and serve as succor to all who labor under the threat of missiles and bombs and gunfire and insanely unfair death; how I wish that all of mercy ever would join to help us re-ignite small fires of all that is good in the broken places of the world so that all children and elders and their in-betweens could feel themselves as nurtured, as valued, as unassailed. How I wish for a working-person’s peace in our times, a workable way for differences to be valued enough that stillness could succor all alike. This is what I see in people now all over, a great desire to help, to make a better world, to bridge abysses of faith and religion with kindness and regular gatherings to share our time and our resources and our hope–afoot in the real world–with each other. Oh, if only this could take wing on yon wind.