The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
-A Hopi Elder
By Chris Dwyer
My new roommate Ben says witty things like, “How can Eskimos have 50 words for snow and we only have one friggin word for community?!” And things like, “Jesus was probably having more sex than ALL of us!” Until I moved into my mother and father-in-law’s basement, we too-rarely got to have great conversations like these. I’m on the fence with his ChristoIogy, but couldn’t agree more with his etymology. Community is such a dumb word. So imprecise.
My skin crawls when I hear the word, as if it’s supposed to be some high ideal. Well, believe me, I’ve been there and done that – it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I can’t be the only one who has nightmares about community life. Personally, my mind flashes back to a place and time where I did community life hardcore – in a kind of brotherhood of badassery. A straight-up cult! It was awesome. And horrible at the same time. Much like community.
“Community”, as a word, falls flat as a clumsy stand-in for only the good stuff. But for most of us, community just as often comes in the form of megadoses of the following: smelly people on the subway, bullies on the playground, group projects with people that don’t pull their weight, inept managers, political super PACs, the BMV, friends that never like our posts on Facebook, X-spouses, ISIS, the Illluminati, and spiders in our basement home. For all its flaws, community life has potential, even though the word is inadequate.
Back to the cult – we wore black cassocks and said stuff in Latin like, vita communis, mortificatio maxima. Community life is the greatest penance. As if self-sacrificing ourselves in community life helped offset our sins. We took cold showers for years at a time, washed each other’s toilets, tip-toed around the gardens, head-bowed, imagining we were in the company of angels, the communion of saints, but cloistered off from the world. Those on the inside, we addressed affectionately as “Brother”, “Father”, “Nuestro Padre”. Those on the outside, the throng of others, we embraced as our surrogate “bride”—the Universal Church. But it was a pretty dysfunctional romance.
Once in a while, on evenings spent walking in silence and solitude in the suburban East Coast seminary, the crisp autumn chill would carry in the raucous cheers of Friday night lights. The sweet perfumes of fall and football intoxicated the mind with thoughts like, “Dear God, a pumpkin spice latte and the touch of a woman’s warm skin would go a long way during this dark night of the soul.” But that wasn’t on the menu.
If we’re going to make any strides in the Middle East peace process or even just living richer lives in our relationships, I say, we bring the Eskimo linguists down to Cincinnati and watch our vocabulary words hump like rabbits, birthing 50 new ways to get at what we really mean. What do we really mean? We are tired of coldness, scared of our aloneness. We are through with formalities which get us nowhere. Where we need go depends on us being able to stop saying the word which we don’t mean. We need to stop using the word connection when what we really yearn for is connectedness. A connection merely endorses you on LinkedIn. But your connectedness bails you out of jail or writes a poem about you.
So, why don’t we all go on a verbal diet and censor the word “community” from our vocabulary for 30 days, until we can get at the true meaning of what it is we’re grasping for. What is it we’re grasping for?
That’s the easy part. It’s the dream of Llyod Christmas! You know the scene (from the movie Dumb and Dumber):
Intimate friends are gathered in a soflty lit timber frame ski lodge, cozy’d up in ugly sweaters, safe from the cold darkness, letting their guard down, toasting each other on their day’s hard-won triumphs and failures, telling jokes and stories, getting messy, spilling peanuts on the floor, lighting their farts on fire in a crescendo of love and vulnerability and connectedness.
Sure, my community includes my kind barista (who’s name I don’t know). But we can do better than anonymity. In an ideal world, the Eskimos would help create beautiful new words for the following communities we ache to manifest in our lives:
- Pajama hanging out crew
- Kidney/sperm/egg donation pool
- Sweaty hug recipient blast zone (includes everyone)
- People whose farts we’d ignite
- People I would let live on my couch
- People under whose living room I would like to live
- Circle of folks who care enough to give me an intervention (if ever I needed one) and who would forgive me if I got really mad at them
- Comfortable to sit in silence partners
- Chemically viable road trip companions
- Zombie defense all-star team
- Tomato growing and gifting neighbors
- Friends who get their book and movie recommendations right
- Teachers who don’t think you’re dumb for asking questions
- Heroes that don’t disappoint you when you meet them
- People who show up for your stuff