Building villages and community

The beginnings of our Yorkshire paperclay village…

I wanted to begin this post by first stating that my heart goes out to all the individuals in the United States who have been ravaged by tornadoes this week. Each day I have been sitting online, reading news reports and wiping the tears from my eyes. I just finished reading an article on an Indiana woman who managed to save both of her children (ages 5 and 8) by binding them together with a blanket and using her body as a human shield to protect them as a tornado literally ripped right through their house.  She lost both of her legs in the process – but managed to keep all of them alive. Alive, by the grace of a moment and one mother’s extraordinary bravery…

It’s during times such as these that a grounded sense of community comes to the fore – neighbours and strangers will find each other, bound together by the commonalities of their existence. Living always in cities, I have often found it difficult to find that sense of shared experiences.  New York may be where I grew up, but it can be the loneliest place in the world. New York City and its various suburbs in the tri-state area add up to over 30 million inhabitants – the entire population of Canada! You would think that in a city so large, teeming with people, that you would find community everywhere you look. Indeed you can, and quite often do. But there are also times when you feel so anonymous, like a tiny pin prick swimming in the centre of a billowing plume rising all around you.

MontrĂ©al, Vancouver, and now Austin… my search for an established community continues. Years ago, Hillary Clinton was mocked mercilessly for her “It takes a village to raise a child” approach, but I think she was hitting on a point that we often overlook. While we all are products of our genetic composition as well as products of our environment, we are also the embodiment of each other. Of course villages have now been replaced by modern-day neighbourhoods, divided by the “haves” and the “have nots.” Affluence can be outwardly measured by the brand of car(s) sitting in the driveway and whether or not you strung your own Christmas lights on your property this year. But less cynically, neighbourhoods can also be measured by community gardens, libraries, food banks, extracurricular groups, recreation centres and a general willingness to create togetherness.

On a recent trip this past week-end to our local grocery store, we remarked at how many people were there on a hot Sunday evening. People were literally spilling out of the store and all of the benches, tables and chairs outside and on the upstairs patio were occupied. There was laughing, eating of take-out and ice cream, and just hanging out in general. What spoke to me about this seemingly attractive meeting place, was that this is a grocery store…and mind you, there is a real scarcity of supermarkets in Austin, so this very large one downtown is quite popular. But at the end of the day, it is clear to me that people are longing for a sense of community; in a world of social networking, smartphones and long work days, they are seeking it out in the most quotidian of places.    

Recently, I have taken to sculpting clay in the evenings. I am forever finding new ways to divert my attention when there is other work to be done! What started as a bit of tinkering around for me has now turned into a new family activity. We listen to music and sit at the dining room table, pounding out our clay, pinching it into shapes, and using whatever we can find around the house as makeshift sculpting tools. Pen caps seem to work quite well! The children have brightly coloured modeling clay and Grant and I use paper clay (one of the only varieties of clay safe for pregnant women) which I later have him top with varnish in a well-ventilated area. A+F have made all matter of things – slices of watermelon, flowers, starbursts, trains, cheeseburgers with all the fixings, and basically anything that pops into their heads. They are so creative in that way, it is very inspiring.

Because of my fondness for all things miniature (they do take up less space and we all know how I feel about clutter), Grant and I have started to make a little village. Recalling my days living in the urban centre of Leeds, England and the gorgeous dales and moors surrounding the city, this seemed like as good a starting place as any.  I am not sure how big our village will turn out to be, but I am hoping we’ll put up a shelf in our dining room to house this new “imagined community” (to borrow from Benedict Anderson).

Where do you find community? Do you actively seek it out where you live? I would love to hear your thoughts.



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