Sister Doris, my 89-year-old friend, had what many would deem a traumatic childhood. She doesn’t remember celebrating Christmas with family, a meal, presents around the tree. She doesn’t remember much about Christmas as a young child – with one exception: She remembers the decorated tree outside the public library across from the Methodist church, where the community would gather once a year to sing Christmas carols. She remembers how she’d anticipate that event, what it looked like, what it sounded like. She remembers feeling safe and warm and happy, part of a bigger whole that welcomed her every year.
“I don’t remember much about Christmas as a child,” she told me this morning, “but I remember that.”
What she remembers is a feeling of belonging, brought about by authentic community. And as her story proves, that is not at all a small thing. She remembers the Christmas Tree moment – as well as select others in her childhood where someone authentically saw her, believed in her, welcomed her in – with great gratitude and clarity… and these impacted her deeply. At a young age, she devoted her entire life to providing service and community to others. “And,” she says, “it’s been a very good life.”
Community does every body good
For the past number of months, the word “community” has been taking up greater and greater space in me, my heart and mind. I am coming to know a deep and persistent longing for creating and participating in authentic community. Sister Doris’s words, her story this morning, validated what I’m beginning to believe: Even the slightest brush with authentic community can significantly impact someone for good.
I find it ironic that in this age of technological speed and connectivity – when we can converse with a device and can have almost anything we want or need delivered to our front door within 24 hours – we speak less and less to real humans, and spend less time walking through each others’ doors.
We’re creating connectivity and losing it at the same time.
But here’s the thing: no one said we had to choose. We can have both, technology and community. Because there is a place for technology in our lives. But nothing – nothing – except real you-and-me-eye-contact-and-talk-and-touch human interaction can create the community we so deeply humanly long for and need. We still can have it, create it, pursue it. It’s still out there, waiting to be claimed and cultivated. And I crave it. You?
Hold a hand and sing
This morning as I sat in my car with Sister Doris in our usual spot overlooking the rolling hills of Western Massachusetts, she took my hand in hers and led me in song through all three verses of Away in a Manger.
We did it twice.
And as we sang it through the second time, I observed it as much as I participated in it. What a blessing – what authentic community I had, right there, singing a Christmas hymn with my dear friend in my old red Jeep. My heart was as deeply grateful and achingly glad as I believe could be humanly possible.
I long to live this way. And I long for you to live this way. Because, quite simply, it’s what we humans need. It’s what makes our lives full. And it’s what allows us, ultimately, to leave a legacy of worth and meaning for the next generation to lean into.
So this season, at least in our hearts, let’s you and I meet at that Tree, and let’s welcome anyone and everyone to join us. May we hold hands and sing and sing and sing.
And in doing so, may we usher in a fresh New Year of authentic intentional community.
My life would be far less full without Sister Doris in it, so I write about her from time to time. This Fall we got lost together, and I wrote about it here: A Child’s Inner Compass Knows Its North.
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