Archive for Thursday, January 16, 2003

Communities crop up in unusual places

January 16, 2003

— The subject of community -- the who, what and where of it -- has come up lately while talking and listening to some of my friend most recently at Sunflower Fitness Center, which will be closed when this column appears.

A few days before its closing, I asked a group of young Eudora matrons what they would do now for exercise, especially during these winter months. Most are transferring to other fitness centers in Lawrence, and they visited about the inconvenience of fitting this into their schedules with children's activities, etc.

As the talk wound down, what they said they would miss the most was the community they had created amongst themselves -- the sharing of news and the chance for adult conversation. For others it provided relief from the feeling of isolation that sometimes comes to "stay-at-home" moms and to those who work from their home. All of this made me sad.

Now, you must understand that any ending always creates a time for me to ruminate on feelings of loss. Many of you are probably saying, "What's the big deal?" Maybe it's reluctance to change or a loss of the familiar that evokes these feelings, but I always have them. Not only was the fitness center convenient, but it also gave me little chance to find excuses for not exercising. I also enjoyed watching and listening to this young group of mothers because it reminded me of the places and people with whom I have often found community through the years.

One such place has been The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, where time stands still as I browse the bookshelves, admire the new hardbacks, enjoy the feel and smell of the place and read snippets from both old and new authors. I especially like going there because it's like the sitcom Cheers -- "where everyone knows your name." Another community is Muncher's Bakery in Lawrence where on any given weekday (early) morning a changing group of people gather to drink coffee and sort out the affairs of the world. One such group has been meeting at Muncher's every Sunday morning for 10 or more years.

In Eudora, I know Annabelle's provides the same atmosphere for early morning risers to discuss everything from crops to Bush's new economic package. I am also reminded of Garrison Keillor's NPR radio show that features the mythical "Chatterbox Cafe," which sounds a lot like Annabelle's, complete with characters that seem very familiar. The "Chatterbox" is the gathering place for those courageous souls who brave the Minnesota winters and gather at the cafe for warmth and nourishment, both physical and emotional.

An experience of community, which was in its brevity a special gift to me, occurred on a recent trip to Ireland in the fall of 2001. Traveling with a group from St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Lawrence, about 10 of us wandered into a pub one evening. After a few minutes, the locals guessing we were Americans, rose and sang "God Bless America" much to our delight and surprise. This was in October of 2001, barely a month after 9-11. You can imagine the emotion this stirred in us. It also created a rare sense of community as we shared and sang familiar show tunes and Irish folk songs with them for almost two more hours.

They told us how the entire country of Ireland closed on 9-11 in sympathy with the United States -- not even our own country did that. Perhaps the suffering that has been a constant in their country for so long was the basis for the friendship and love we shared in those few short hours. While the churches and castles we visited were memorable, the highlight of the trip for me was that special time sharing, laughing and talking with these new friends far across the ocean we would never see again.

Recently I was watching a brief piece on the news about a man who, because of downsizing, lost his job, his home, neighborhood and most importantly his community. You could hear in his voice and see in his eyes the feeling of disconnection he was experiencing.

We are all social beings and need others to gather around the fire, the cafe, the bookstore, the coffee shop, the pub or the exercise machines. My hope is someone will pick up the lease at Sunflower and bring back the community that existed for those young women and all of us who found a niche there. As for myself (now that I can't exercise) I'm off to eat doughnuts and covet books at the Raven.

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