I’m stopping by a natural water spring about 20 miles outside of Ithaca, New York, when I meet a kind old man who teaches me the history of the water I’m drinking:
He’s lived around here his whole life and has been visiting this oasis since he was a boy. The three massive PVC pipes I see plugged into the mountainside weren’t always what delivered the water from this underground spring. The man points and I look more closely–these pipes are resting on top of an empty, moss-covered, stone pool–The water would once collect in there for people to drink. When his mother was a child, he said, there was a second pool just for watering horses–about 100 years of history erupts from a spring I’ve only known for a few years.
My new friend holds a white plastic pail half-filled with tiny red berries. He sees me notice them and hands me one. I laugh because I’m taking mysterious berries from a stranger but somehow I trust him implicitly.
“They’re called thimbleberries,” he tells me. “They’re in the same family as raspberries and they’re native to this region.”
He leads me to where he found them growing out of the hillside. He teaches me to pick them by gently touching them (the ripe ones fall right off) and as I eat my handful of thimbleberries, I have the revolutionary, yet incredibly mundane realization that I can forage my own food.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for meeting this man and when I thank him, his response pierces me:
“We have to take care of each other. No one else will.”
When I was a young child, our neighbors were part of my family. I lived on a regular street in average New Jersey Suburbia, but our neighbors were very much part of our lives–the children all played outside together; the retired man down the street would let me help in his garden and bring home baskets of tomatoes; the elderly woman next door literally helped raise me and treated my mother as her own daughter.
Nowadays, we hide in our homes, constantly bombarded with negative news that highlights the scariest parts of our world, effectively convincing us to keep to ourselves. Not only that, but most of us are also severely addicted to social media–However, the thing about social media is that it’s an illusion; it gives us the feeling as if we are socially interacting without actually having to do it, effectively enabling us to isolate ourselves. Yet however comforted we may feel by our technology, Instagram can not take care of you, Facebook will not look out for you, and Twitter will never give you genuine human connection.
As human beings, we have the inherent need for a community. So when we deprive ourselves of a tribe, we rob ourselves our own humanness. Community is the sharing of culture, the passing down of stories and knowledge. It is a sense of belonging to something greater than yourself. Not only that, but we also have to take care of each other because no one else will.
Community can start with inviting your neighbor over for dinner. It can be trying a new hobby like dancing or biking or literally anything at all that involves a group of people coming together. It can be as committed as joining (or starting) an intentional living community like a housing co-op or an eco-village. Community can even be as simple as sharing some berries and passing down the knowledge of the land that provides for us all.
image found at: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/114067803035574449/