The word ‘community’ is one of the most elastic in the English language. Communities can be large like a neighborhood or small like your weekly bridge partners, but all communities form and are sustained by a common interest.
The role communities play in our lives, especially as we age, cannot be overstated. Communities give us a sense of belonging and connectedness, and add to our feeling of self-worth. Communities also are a crucial hedge against the dreaded and disabling fears of isolation and loneliness.
“Volunteering is a great way to become part of a community.” -Peter Langmaid, RSVP Volunteer Ambassador
If you pay attention to the news, America is becoming increasingly tribal, with a list of bona fides that must be met for membership. Communities are different from tribes in that the common interest can be narrow.
I have been playing clarinet in a community band for over 20 years. It’s an important form of recreation for me and I look forward to our weekly rehearsals and performances.
But what do I know of my fellow band mates other than we all enjoy playing music together? Almost nothing.
I know the woman sitting next to me is a dentist, but that’s about it. Because we are an ensemble, working together and listening to one another deepens the feeling of togetherness and is essential to producing a good sound.
Communities are not static. I have been an avid squash player (a racquet sport similar to racquetball) for the past 30 years. I played five to seven times a week, participated in all local tournaments, and even traveled to participate in national and international events.
I am, however, 70 years old, and almost all my old mates have quit the game due to injury, relocation or old age.
Because my cohort dwindled over time, I hardly noticed until I simply ran out of people to play with. I still go to the gym regularly, but my squash community barely exists. It is a great loss.
Volunteering is a great way to become part of a community. I volunteer at my local food bank each week, and I look forward to socializing with fellow volunteers and clients.
We volunteers enjoy each other so much that a number of us get together about once a month for lunch. Combining fun with the satisfaction of helping others is a great joy. Being an RSVP volunteer, especially in the Ambassador program, is another fulfilling community.
For many of us, the people we work with are an important community. After all, we spend half our waking hours with them. When we retire, that community disappears and the loss is significant.
If you’re retired, ask yourself, what do you miss more, the work or the people you worked with? For me, though I loved my work, it’s the people I remember.
Which brings me to the subject of communities that are formed and interact through the Internet, like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Though many will argue otherwise, I think a community without presence lacks depth.
There is a crucial magic that happens when people interact in person that can’t happen through a phone or computer screen. And, trying to live through your computer (unless you’re homebound) tends to perpetuate isolation and loneliness.
It’s like the difference between seeing a picture of a juicy hamburger and chowing down on a juicy hamburger. This is not to say that the Internet is not extremely useful for staying in touch with friends and family, but it’s no substitute for being there.
Communities don’t just happen. They need to be built and maintained through openness and inclusion. And, a useful measure of a full life is the number of communities you are involved with.
Get out there!