Becoming Community

Photo by Liam Pozz on Unsplash

“The most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” – Kurt Vonnegut

I miss people. I miss little people, big people, happy people, crabby people. I miss the spontaneity that a safe environment supports. I miss hugging friends and rubbing shoulders with strangers. I miss my church community where we lingered over coffee and donuts each Sunday. I miss the church community that gathered across the street from us and waved their friendly hellos as they came and went. I miss smiling with my whole face and not just my eyes. We have a new baby on our block, born of the COVID-19 generation, who I have only seen wrapped in her parents’ arms. She’ll be crawling or maybe walking before I can even meet her! I miss babies.

I am among the fortunate whose marriage is alive and we like keeping company together. Not everyone is so blessed. Many live alone, sometimes in physical proximity with others, but emotionally and spiritually distant. We have a pandemic of loneliness as well.

How will we return to community as this time of isolation is eventually behind us? Maybe return is not the right word. Maybe the community we want is different from the one that has been thrust into chaos these past many months. We can see that our old ways of being together have not been good for everyone.

As we move toward Martin Luther King Day, perhaps it is a good time to revisit the Beloved Community. In Dr King’s vision, within the Beloved Community all people can share the wealth of the earth; poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated; all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

It turns out the best life belongs to those who cooperate.“We the people” our Constitution begins. We. All of us. Not just the strong or the sober or the sensible. All of us. Young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight, regardless of faith, pigmentation, or place of origin.

We are social animals. Among our American myths is that life belongs to the fittest or the smartest or the richest. It turns out the best life belongs to those who cooperate. How did we get to a place where we choose to beat or even destroy those we see as the opposition rather than win together? To keep out rather than welcome in? To judge based on group identity rather than individual behavior?

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All of us are miraculously here. I heard an elder speak to the long chain of events that had to happen in order for each of us to be here. All the ancestors that had to live, the meeting and partnering of our various antecedents, the progress of science and medicine to allow so many to live here and now. A whole community sacrificed to bring us here. Are we living a life worthy of such sacrifice?

We are learning that the plant world also builds and sustains community. Within a social network, trees communicate, warn of dangers, support new life, share their wisdom and bounty. Ecologist Suzanne Simard describes how trees use a network of fungi to communicate within and among a community of trees, and not just of their own type. For instance, paper birch and Douglas fir work together to assist each other in getting nutrients. The birch supports the Douglas fir during the heat of the summer, the fir returns the favor in the autumn when the birch has lost its leaves while the green needles of the fir can still generate the chemical energy that they both need through photosynthesis.

“It’s this network,” Simard says, “like a below-ground pipeline, that connects one tree root system to another tree root system, so that nutrients and carbon and water can exchange between the trees.”

All of us are miraculously here.Healthy forests have Hub trees, also called Mother trees, that aid small young saplings, which are limited by the canopies of older and larger trees from creating their own energy. The Hub tree passes on necessary nutrients. When the young tree is in distress, more nutrients are sent. Those Hub trees continue to grow and share life with young trees for hundreds of years. I am reminded of a quote by George Bernard Shaw, “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.”

Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees, says “the reason trees share food and communicate is that they need each other. It takes a forest to create a microclimate suitable for tree growth and sustenance. So, it’s not surprising that isolated trees have far shorter lives than those living connected together in forests. This is because a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.”

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Isn’t that true of us as well? We are only as strong as our community. When a small town loses its main business soon the village cafe closes, then the gift shop, followed by the grocery store. Young people leave for healthier locales and eventually the last stalwarts die out. We, too, are only as strong as our community.

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has predicted that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual but rather a community, a community practicing understanding and loving kindness.

The Judaeo-Christian tradition has a custom called Jubilee. The book of Leviticus describes it as a year to refresh, to forgive, to set free. It is a time to restart and begin anew. What if we entered the new year truly new? We could let go of old grievances, forgive those who have hurt us, practice patience with those who annoy us.

How do we want to be community going into this new year, new decade, new view of what health means? We are experiencing a timeout. As the vaccine rolls out, we reside in a liminal space of not quite here yet not quite there. Let us set our intentions as to what this new beginning might be. Going back isn’t good enough. Let’s go forward…together.

My hope for the new year is that as we manage the COVID-19 epidemic we also manage the loneliness epidemic and the estrangement epidemic and the uncontrolled contagion of competition.

We are not meant to live alone. Like the forest, we thrive in a diverse, supportive, welcoming community. Let us be our Beloved Community!


Mary Lou Logsdon is a Spiritual Director in the Twin Cities. She teaches in the Sacred Ground Spiritual Direction Formation Program. She can be contacted at logsdon.marylou@gmail.com. 

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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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