An Essay on Community
An Essay on Community
By Aeric Estep
It’s two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. This is the time often set aside for naps or watching football games. But I, with six others, am running up a hill in West Linn. It is time for the gathering of a small community affectionately known as Sunday Runday.
It is in the middle places, like Sunday Runday, where communities reside. The dueling siren songs of individualism and the state lull us into thinking each is the best and most beneficial end of people. The conflicting sounds tell us we are truly human either on our own or gathered all together. But the activities that knit communities together are not found in the individual or the state but in all the middle places where neighbors meet each other, share life together, and are given meaning and purpose.
Because of the prominence of individualism in our culture, and the scope and breadth of government at the state and federal levels, it is easy to assume that participation in community is limited to those two spheres. But I have never built a lasting relationship at the DMV. Neighbors are met in all the middle places. We meet our neighbors at book clubs and sharing a craft brew. We learn their names cleaning up our neighborhood after a storm or committing to the PTA together. We meet co-workers laboring toward business goals or fellow volunteers serving in food pantries or the Lion’s club.
In all the middle places, neighbors share life. Hopes and dreams are shared and honed alongside your friends at the backyard barbecue. Good news is celebrated when a baby arrives or a new job is secured. When bad news inevitably knocks on the door, sharing it together lightens its effect. When suffering strikes, communities from the middle places provide the meals, the help, and the listening ears.
These middle places house the friendships and communities that tell us who we are and how we ought to live in this world. It is the little league that has us rubbing shoulders with neighbors and learning to live and work together. It is the small group at church that tells us our purpose. It is every small act of loving, or being loved by a neighbor, that reminds us how humans ought to live.
Society and community are held together by the middle places. The individual is obviously a participant of each middle place, but we need others found in the middle places. The state is powerful and necessary for responding to threats to those communities. It must respond to pandemics and crimes, danger and violence. But we must not mistake the protector of communities for the community itself.
I could take a nap on the couch every Sunday. I could avoid the middle place of Sunday Runday, but I would lose the conversations, the connections and friendships –the place to share hopes and dreams. As I run up the hill with neighbors, I am participating in what it means to be human.
Aeric Estep is a candidate for State Representative for West Linn and Tualatin (aericfororegon.com). He is on Twitter @aericestep