• Caroline Penfield

Redefining Community

Living in community is something I have taken for granted most of my life. My parents raised me with a strong sense of community, always having people around me who loved me and took care of me. Through school and my different extracurriculars I built my own circle of community. Friends I danced or did theatre with, the close knit group of girls whose friendship sustained me through the trials of middle and high school, and the adults who I looked up to. The recent surge of Instagram story Bingo boards highlight the comfort of being in the “in” group of a community. I believe that community is a life force. It enhances our being and gives meaning to the mundane cycles of life. It gives us unity, identity. I have found, in myself and others, that often, the response to not feeling able on one’s own, is to carry on for the sake of others.

I know that I take community for granted because I notice it most when it isn’t present in the way I thought it would be. Coming to college, one of my biggest fears was the task of rebuilding community in a new place and new environment. When a friendship ends or we experience a loss, holes in our community gape open. Sometimes our meaning trickles out with it.

In these uncertain times, I felt the fear of loss of community. I wondered how I would stay connected with my friends, when most friendships in college count on seeing someone everyday. I wondered how the faith communities I am a part of would continue to worship and pray together if we were suddenly scattered. I feared losing my own identity, knowing I have grown in the light of others.

However, an unexpected gift in all this is that we get to find new ways to stay in community. I think we could all say we’re thankful for Zoom and its ability to string us together across miles and time zones. My friends and I take care to schedule FaceTime calls, but also leave the spontaneity in and call and text at random. The campus ministries I rely on for spiritual growth meet virtually too. I continue to be grateful for the technologies that allow us to stay in face-to-screen-to-screen-to-face contact, but I also mourn the loss of time we are physically together and the joys and comfort that physical touch brings. Feeling connected to a place is a big community builder for me. My closest communities are generally tied to places; churches, camp, college. But, I’ve realized that physical presence isn’t the only thing that constitutes community, which is at the very least, reassuring.

I also think this crisis allows us to see a community we don’t think of often, our global community. If a community is a group of people who take care of one another, then we are seeing how wide our community is. We see how individual actions can save or endanger lives.

The world has a heightened sense of the responsibility we hold to one another, and there are heartwarming stories of it. Donnie Adison is an e-commerce shopper for a grocery store chain in Georgia who has been shopping for friends and family who aren’t mobile. She says, “I’m just really trying to be part of the group of people that helped during the crisis, and not harmed.” People are looking out for the most vulnerable in our community. We also recognize the meaning of the little things that bring us together. Libraries have been streaming story times online for children at home, musicians are doing mini-concerts from their living rooms, and, my personal favorite thing that’s come out of this, professional dancers are doing online classes for free (shoutout to the Radio City Rockettes for my new favorite way to workout!).

I know the good ways we have come together in community will not outweigh the hurt and loss this pandemic will cause. But, I have hope that when this is over, we will have a new lens on community. One that is wide enough to encompass our worldwide community, but that focuses in enough to get a clear picture of our role in it.

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