what is community?

i wanted to journal on something other than just my ongoing move today – and i was going to write on the question of “what is family?” this morning – but a friend wrote a poem to a list of people he knows this morning and it begged the question of what is real community (and he’s right, it certainly isn’t a computer mailing list).

i think it’s an appropriate time for me to write about this, as i am moving out of my physical community and into another – and yet today, when i sent my new phone number out to people by email – it went all around north america – all people who i consider a part of a community i belong to for different reasons. some of them are friends from my physical, some from my ideological and spiritual, and some from the artistic communities in which i am involved.

over the years, i been privileged to travel as an activist and musician, making close friendships with people from all over including special bonds with many who i will never live in the same town as. i used to conceptualize community as a physical place – east van as my political and physical “community” – but as my life has progressed, community has come to occupy a psychic place, a bond or connection with others transcending the need to be in the same location at the same time always.

interconnection with people is something essential to my well-being, for i am a social critter thriving on networks of support and a diversity of experience (much of which comes vicariously through the people i know). i can not possibly live all the events i wish to, but i trust those who i call my friends to go out and live the ones i can’t, and bring those experiences to me for sharing. in this way i am always greater than myself, filled with the life of others. this is the strength in dispersion of loved ones.

sometimes the distance from my kin makes me lonely, especially when i am challenged in other aspects of my life, or if i know my faraway friends are having their own difficulties. in those times i wish for a greater closeness, a physical community in which we could draw together to assist each other through rough times – but for many people in my life i know that is just not possible now or ever. those chance encounters we have in the same place must last, and for that to happen we must be in the moment with our friendship – which brings a poignancy not often felt with those who we have a daily familiarity.

some of the traveller people in my life are quite magical – showing up without notice, taking flight in the early mornings to return to their travels, leaving behind eagle feathers and small stones to remind me of them. i get random postcards and sometimes packages with books and cds sent by ex-lovers who stumble across a letter i have sent them and are inspired to return something to me. a friend from a decade ago returns to my life for solace, or a place to rest however briefly. all of these people form a part of the network of kin i require – bringing special things to me that others do not.

on the other hand, when i broke my ankle last summer, i required the support of those who lived close by to help me with just the basics of living… and my own identity is established again and again by playing my part in my neighborhood, with the people who know me and witness my actions every day. it is these people day to day whose roots are intertwined with mine, keeping me grounded and focussed and accountable. these are the people who i answer to, integral to how i know myself and my social politics.

the point being – i need all the people in my life, and no type of community is more important than another to me because each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

my partner is one more example of this, new to my life, he adds one more element to my kinship, and although he lives several hours away – it does not make him less a part of my community, support network, or circle – than those who live down the block from me.

i suppose to answer what is my community – i would say it is the sum total of who i am, myself reflected in those who i know and in the actions i participate in with those people. joint work, shared values, and a commitment to respecting one another are what keep us united over the years, even if we see each other rarely and in odd circumstances. moving from east vancouver to roberts creek i will have to create for myself new connections in the physical space i am living, though my transient communities will continue to exist for me in the space they always have – somewhere on the margins of my day to day existence, but a part of my whole unchanging even as my own location does.

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