(Re) Discovering Connection
The Beginning of an Inquiry into Community
The potatoes pictured above came from the garden my wife and I planted earlier this spring. We are not “green thumbs” by any means, and potatoes have the reputation of being a little more resilient to our neglect than other vegetables. So, the season went on, and true to form we allowed the potatoes to (mostly) raise themselves in our little garden boxes in our yard. As we came and went over the season, we could see the green leaves climb towards the sky and marveled at just how little we had to be involved in order to see something grow so large. For me, potatoes are a neat little treasure: unlike the squash that balloons out in your face, barely hid by it’s own wide leaves, potatoes are hidden. They find their way to maturation out of sight, and so you can only mound and wait and hope they are going to be alright.
In both my counselling, my recent education (a Master’s of Education) and in the world at large, I have been drawn over and over to the sense that there is a massive disconnection. A community-sized void that people are trying to fill with all kinds of non-community things: TV, the internet, drugs, alcohol, outrage, denial, and lonliness. I am one of those people. I find it easier and easier to stay at home and comfortably watch TV or play video games than to go out to socialize and risk awkwardness, boredom, or uncertainty in the name of community building. I am also very lucky. I have found and managed to retain a few important friends that have become my family. I can rely on them when I am in trouble, and whine to them when I am sad, and just be nurtured by their presence when all is well. In some ways it reminds me of the potatoes - when you find a good community, you just kind of exist, mounding experience and time on to your friendships, hoping those pale-skinned nuggets of trust and connection are growing. Then, when you need them the most, you can plunge your hands into the soil, and hope they are going to be there for you, to nourish you or to simply brighten your day with their presence. If I am fortunate, some days I can provide the same thing back for those same people. We plant and tend and grow and rely on one another over and over again, season by season.
All that being said, I truly do think I am lucky. Lucky in that my particular community has slowly grown in ways that are working. As I said before, there is a theme in my work that is telling me this is not the case in most areas of many of our lives. We buy our potatoes, cleaned, semi-symmetrical, sterile, and trade them for money. This often mirrors our engagement with community - that it comes (usually in the form of syndicated comedy or drama) in clean, 30 to 60 min packages ready to be consumed and told how to laugh or cry or connect with characters we see in ourselves and in our struggles and we get the added bonus of shutting it off whenever it becomes too much. I would argue that in both cases, we are missing something. We are missing the dirty hands, the discovery of ants in the roots of the plants, the uncomfortability of not knowing how things will turn out, and the drawing together of people (or food, or both) when things do work out. The image of roots comes to mind, and how they draw their nourishment from everything around them, they don’t get to pick and choose, and together they help their common goal (to grow) come to fruition.
I think that some our communities (spiritual, regional, familial, occupational, and all others) have suffered the same fate of disconnection that I have with my store-bought potatoes. They can feel transactional and distant and not really grounded in substance. They lack the dirt, the care and the giving of yourself that makes them valuable. This may sound naive to the farmers out there, but I have a much harder time throwing out or wasting the things I grow than the stuff I buy. There is something of me in these potatoes, and I don’t want to do that a disservice. Our communities and friendships and home environments should model this, I think. They should be places where we have vested interest, we care for one another because we are in it together, period. We plant in the spring because we expect there to be a need for potatoes in fall, because one day, we might not be able to simply drive to the store and get them. What would happen if we treated our communities like this?
I will continue to write on this subject every few weeks for those that would like to follow along. I welcome your voice on anything that comes up during the journey.