My dear friend Courtney and I were discussing community today, and by discussing I mean texting, and with nearly 2,000 miles between us while we did. The irony was completely lost on me until I sat down to write tonight. Maybe that’s what it looks like in 2016, but – as much as I enjoy our iMessage back-and-forths – I’d like to believe we were made for something more.
I don’t know what community looks like for anyone else, or even me to some degree, but I’m pretty sure I have an idea how it feels. There isn’t just the freedom to be my authentic self, there’s the expectation. Because if everyone is bringing the grab bag that is their life to the table and I’m consistently projecting an image of something greater (or even different) than who I really am, community is never going to exist for me. It’s also going to damn near ruin it for the people trying to live in relationship with me. Community is a team sport. Obviously this act alone is going to make some people very uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable for the majority of my life. It sometimes still makes me uncomfortable. The pre-packaged, mile wide and inch deep version has much greater appeal. It always will. Not everyone is going to love the authentic you, or me, or us. But some people, maybe just a few people, will, and the things we give up for the sake of authenticity are made up for in what we get back from being loved for who we actually are.
A lot of us got taught from an early age that image was something to protect. Let people see the best you whether or not it’s the real you. As someone born, raised, and still residing in the American south, that was and is as much a part of the social fabric as anything else. Of course, it’s never put that bluntly, but it may as well be. The unintended consequence is people who, quite often, behave differently depending on who, what, when, and where. Which begs the question: which one is the true me? And if I never figure that out, will life become an increasingly tiring game of Win, Lose or Draw wherein I’m constantly having an impossible time of communicating what’s really inside me to people who should know me so much better? I think the answer to that question is yes.
Here’s what I don’t know, and am hopefully not alone in: how do I create community when it – for whatever reason – falls apart? That’s the thing Court and I kicked around today. Neither of us had any answers. We’ve both experienced community, and then life happened and brought with it three divorces, some moves in state and out of state, and distance that made it impossible to share a meal or a beer or a kayak trip down the river like we had so easily before. The community still exists, but not in the same form as before. And what we’ve both realized is that the proximity to one another’s lives, and the experience of sharing all of ourselves with a small group of trusted friends is life-giving and, as Courtney put it, grace-filled. What that looks like now, and in the future, has yet to be seen.