Last December, I had the opportunity to publicly thank my parents for their support in my life. I jokingly thanked them for their “good genetics,” but since heredity is only half of the heredity-environment debate, I also thanked them for being “good examples.”
They volunteer, they donate, they tithe. They drive neighbors to appointments, mow the cemetery, do mending at an assisted living facility.
They teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, lend a helping hand. They serve on committees, provide leadership, and reach out to others.
They aren’t perfect, but they are good neighbors.
It’s a hard act to follow.
Sense of community. What I have come to realize is that my parents exemplify the meaning of “sense of community.”
People in their town matter to them and if they can help someone, they will. The town itself matters to them and if there are weeds around the flagpole, they’ll pull them.
There is a network that links community members, a culture that works to foster civic responsibility, a foundation that nurtures its young people.
These are the ties that bind.
Sociologists and community leaders decry the loss of this “sense of community.” The suburbs created a sense of “disconnect;” hectic lives put limits on our time. We’ve become too selfish, too disinterested, too apathetic. Any number of reasons led to this loss of “place.”
It’s hard to reach out to your neighbors, if you don’t know them.
Rich subsoil. Tucked in my files is a well-crafted essay by a Missouri farmer who likened rural America to his farm’s subsoil. “… we almost never receive enough rain during the growing season to raise a successful crop, so we depend on the moisture stored in the deeper soil profile…
“[Rural America] serves as that same sort of reservoir for the rest of the country, supplying the moral perception and practical instincts, the life-giving moisture of good citizenship, that are necessary to the long-run survival of our nation.
“The deep soil profile is never as impressive as good black topsoil, and there is much less organic activity down there. The top layer of soil is where most of the life is located.
“But a good charge of moisture in those deeper, more stable regions saves us time and again during the scorching days of July and August.”
It takes a village. Many rural towns today risk losing their own sense of community. Larger suburbs hope to find it. But traditional community values cannot be legislated, dictated or created through public programs. And it takes more than a town to make a community.
The sense of community starts and ends with the individual. With people like my parents and, hopefully, with people like you and me.
Neighbors listen, neighbors act and neighbors serve without thought of payment or glory. Living in a community where people care about each other is reward enough.
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