What Is Community?

Sunset, LakeBy Jojo Furnival

I’m walking with a crutch today.

I’m not entirely sure how I hurt my left foot. I injured my Achilles quite badly around three years ago and was on crutches for weeks, re-learning how to walk and undergoing physio, but the pain didn’t feel so terribly bad this time, so I kept telling myself ,“It’ll be fine”, while going about my days as I normally would here at New Life.

For me, that means keeping busy; wanting to be a part of everything, volunteering for additional activities or work if I can, and encouraging those seeking recovery or acceptance to find in me a support, if they want it. A crutch.

In recent years, I have often been described as the “glue”, whether holding a group of friends together or a team of colleagues. I hold it together so that others feel secure enough to lean on me.

And I don’t just mean with the Tiger Balm and Reiki that I’m offered, the assistance getting my lunch from the buffet as I’ve only one free hand, or the kind donations of sweet treats from ‘Mama’s’ (our local Thai shop) to make me feel better; whatever it is that I need right now – more space, less space, a look, a shoulder, a word, a smile, a friend, teacher, or mentor, some kindness or guidance. Here in this community, not only can I access it – it is okay for me to need it.

As I contemplate this idea, I am reminded of sentiment expressed in goodbye speeches by volunteers and residents recently departed. In our daily meeting, we take a moment to hear from any newcomers to the community and those who are leaving that day. These farewells, often moving and personal, can be particularly poignant when thoughts turn to the transition from the community to the outside world and vice versa. New Life is often described as a “bubble”. It is a safe place, where you can be exactly who you are, without expectation. Can we claim the same of Western society in 2015?

Civilised society is based on reward and punishment, isn’t it? We are rewarded by our parents, our teachers, our boss when we do what they want, and reprimanded when we don’t. We develop through this process a sense of self and how we can best ‘fit in’ to the world we inherit. What do I need to do to gain acceptance? What am I doing wrong? This model of acceptance, adaptation, or rejection is founded in the opinions of others. No wonder so many of us feel lost, unsupported, even unloved.

The community is life, simply. It is unity, balance, push pull, give, receive. It is support. It takes all of its component parts in harmony to make it work – a single entity with one goal – and in this, as in nature, lies its strength. And its beauty.

No wonder it is so hard for people to leave New Life. All we’re ever looking for can be found right here: the freedom to be ourselves. Sad, joyful, energetic, tired, playful, sombre. Vulnerable, suffering, wounded, with crutches or without.

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