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Faith in Vermont: Three Moments of Community

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Posted on May 9, 2017 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



The playground of my youngest child’s preschool is larger than the school building. It is not a modern playground of shiny metal and brightly-colored plastic; it’s wooden, haphazardly assembled, and contains more grass, dirt, and trees than structures. So I was not surprised when I arrived last Monday afternoon to pick up my daughter and found her with some friends out on the playground playing “kitchen” in a circle of stumps by using sticks to stir pots filled with mud.

Several other parents were already gathered around the kitchen circle, reluctant to interrupt the play, and I joined them. As it happened, we weren’t the ones to interrupt the children’s imaginary game; instead, an insect zoomed overhead and landed on a log nearby, sending one of the girls running into her mother’s arms.

This girl assumed that the insect was a wasp, which it resembled at a distance. I inched closer to investigate.

It was not a wasp, but an adult mayfly. Once we’d established its safety, children and adults gathered around to admire the primitive and ephemeral insect, which was likely nearing the end of its fleeting, day-long life. We admired its purplish, iridescent wings and noted its two graceful, tail-like cerci waving in the breeze. Then we dispersed to the parking lot.

This moment was briefer than a mayfly’s life, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it: It had felt special, as if time had stopped for a moment, and in that moment my fellow humans and I had been united in our admiration of something outside of ourselves.

It struck me that this was as accurate a definition of “community” as any I’ve heard.

I write and think about community often. When asked what I love about living in small town Vermont after spending decades in suburbs and cities, “community” is one of the first words out of my mouth. And people nod knowingly, because I’m not the only one to bandy about the word “community” during these days of internet-imposed isolation: We are a lonely culture, and we thirst after community.

But what is community? When we talk about community, we are talking about much more than the dictionary definition of “people with common interests living in a particular area.” To say that a community is a place where people know and help each other gets closer to the mark, but I’ve often felt that the magic of community can’t quite be put into words; I recognize it when I see it.

That afternoon on the preschool playground, I saw it. What was remarkable about the mayfly incident was that, for a few seconds, none of us was thinking about ourselves, or about what we had to do next; we were all just admiring an insect together.

It is so very rare that we as individuals ever stop thinking about ourselves and what we have to do, let alone as a group. But in those moments, time stops and the magic of community happens.

On the morning of that same day, the Agway truck had dropped 2 cubic yards of topsoil next to our driveway for our new garden. The day was warm and sunny, but the forecast was for torrential rains and gale-force winds that night. So when I arrived home after picking up my daughter from preschool, I planned to grab a shovel and wheelbarrow and get busy distributing the soil between eight raised beds.

But first, I called my friend, who had to pick up something from my house. “Come over anytime,” I said, “I’ll just be here shoveling topsoil all afternoon.”

She came on her bike, with two of her children in tow. She brought her work gloves.

While my friend’s two children played with my own (helpfully distracting my daughters, who’d been “helping” me by climbing on the soil pile), my friend and I shoveled and dumped throughout the muggy afternoon. By suppertime, all 2 cubic yards of soil were safely in the garden beds.

As I struggled to find words to thank my friend, she said, “No problem. This is how it’s supposed to be. We all have so much work to do. It’s the whole idea behind barn-raising.”

Right then, I felt another flash of community magic: Working together, focused on a task outside ourselves, my friend and I had accomplished a minor miracle.

As if to drive the point home, on Tuesday evening The Rainbow happened.

It had been a breathless, nonstop kind of day, and it had rained on-and-off throughout. I was heading up the stairs after dinner, taking my youngest daughter to bed, when another daughter exclaimed, “Look! The sun came out!”

I turned and saw The Rainbow through the window at the bottom of the stairs.

Our entire family – one daughter clad only in underwear – pulled on rainboots and ran outside. It was, without exaggeration, the most brilliant rainbow I have witnessed in four decades of life. From our front yard, we could see the full arc, with the Green Mountains glowing golden underneath. As we watched, a second rainbow, more faint, appeared above the first.

I don’t know how long it lasted, but it felt like eternity. My seven-year-old began by musing, “This is a special family memory.” She moved on to, “I love our family!” and by evening’s end was hollering, “THANKS, GOD!” at the sky.

Although only our family was present, it still felt like community: Together, we seemed to step out of time as we shared the realization that we were experiencing something special. Later, through conversations and Facebook photos, we learned that all over our geographic community, people had felt the same thing.

It may be that such magical experiences of community occur more frequently in small towns. In a town like mine, where the pace of life is a little slower and there’s no traffic nibbling at your schedule, it may be easier to forget yourself and the to-do list; it may be simpler to focus on small things with fewer retail, entertainment, or dining options to distract you.

But I think the beauty of my three moments of community is that they could happen anywhere, at any time. They don’t require a town of under 20,000 inhabitants; they simply require that you pay attention.

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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