Monday, February 13, 2012

Give the Gift of Community this Christmas

December 2011

My grandfather, we called him Pa,  was a World War II Veteran, father of seven, farmer, and just about the smartest person I ever knew. He could fix anything, tell great stories, and believed that the only things worth watching on television could be found on PBS. I also think that they only received three TV stations, so the selection was a bit limited at my grandparents home just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway in rural Patrick County, Virginia.

In the summer, my cousins and I were often sent off to “Camp Granny and Pa” during which we would spend the week fishing, hiking, learning about the world around us from our grandparents, and assisting in farm chores. There was a lot of assisting in farm chores. I think the Camp Granny and Pa experience was more about having a steady labor force to keep the weeds out of the fields of beans, corn, and potatoes for Pa’s farm when I look back on it.

I remember Pa saving the brown paper bags that groceries come in, and then filling those bags with corn, beans, potatoes, blackberries, apples from his orchard, or whatever happened to be in season. We would then climb into his dodge truck and drive the mountain roads of the Blue Ridge. Every so often at the end of a dirt road, or in an unnamed hollow, or at a ramshackle house by a stream in the mountains we would stop, and Pa would take a bag of food and sneak up to the back door, leave it on the porch, and then we would drive away. It was an early taste for me as to how hard life was for some people, and how important it was to look out for your neighbors, even if you neighbors lived miles away in the next valley. My grandparents viewed the Dobbins area as their community, and they knew that they had a role to play in it.

A community is not defined by the quality of its roads, the number of streetlights that chase away the darkness, or the services it provides. It is not defined by how close the houses are. It is not defined by its size, its geography, or the number of trees it has. It is defined by the actions of the people who live in it. Community comes from knowing your neighbors, from sacrificing your harvest to help those whose didn’t come in. And in an economy like this one, a community’s success or failure is determined by the effort its citizens take to help each other through the winter .

For my grandparents, the entire area of the county and its scattering of residences and farms was their community. They looked out for their neighbors, and when a neighbor was in need you could bet a bag of food would appear on the doorstep. I think my grandfather would have been mortified if he had ever been caught leaving those vegetables at people’s houses. It wasn’t about getting credit – It was simply about making sure that the neighbors had what they needed.

This holiday season there are many in our community who don’t have what they need. There will be people on the 25th of December who see it as just another day. There will be people who celebrate the holiday with no one, and whose cupboards are bare. As a member of your community, I urge you to take just a little bit of your time and your plenty this season to support our community by sharing and supporting those who are dealing with hard times during the holidays. It can be as simple as baking a cake for your neighbor, or helping to serve food, or working with one of the numerous organizations in our community focusing on addressing the needs of our citizens. When you help your neighbor, you are investing in the emotional infrastructure of our community. You are adding to the definition of who we are as a society. More importantly, you are improving the quality of life in your city – by helping  people make it through the challenges that their lives have presented to them.