On community

The recent blog series by Two Writing Teachers, Seen, Valued, Heard: Writing to Establish Community, brought to mind a piece I wrote on community two years ago—long before the current pandemic, the transition to remote learning, and our vastly-intensified struggle for social justice. We are all reminded, many times over, that for a communityever how large, small, or microcosmicto flourish, it is imperative that every member sees, values, and hears one another.

What IS community, really? So much more than we tend to think. Philosopher David Spangler wrote: Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.” The words of priest Henri Nouwen: “Community is first of all a quality of the heart the question, therefore, is not ‘How can we make community?’ but, ‘How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?‘” And this line from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who died in a concentration camp, strikes me deeply: “The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them.”

As an educator, as a human being, I continue to reflect on “community.” Here’s my composition from 2018, followed by a double acrostic composed this morning.

When I think of the word community, I first envision a neighborhood where people are bound to one another by a sense of civic responsibility. A grouping of people or houses does not a community make; a true community develops from like-mindedness about the good of the whole. Protecting one another, helping one another in times of need, maybe beautifying the area . . . on a deeper level, think of these variations of community: Commune, communion. These words have a spiritual color to them. They imply an even greater like-mindedness and focus. Definitions of the verb commune include a passionate, intense, or intimate discussion, the exchange of thoughts and feelings; to commune, or for there to be communion, people gather together out of a desire to share, tap into, or celebrate something profoundly meaningful to all. Such a rapport implies that partakers are there not just to get but to give.

So it is for a community of writers. A grouping of people with pencils, papers, and laptops, within the classroom or without, does not a community of writers make. To write is to put pieces of one’s soul on a page; this, in the scheme of human undertakings, is an unparalleled act of courage. A writing community, then, is a gathering of the courageous in a place where it is safe to share the pieces of one’s soul on the collective pages, with the responsibility to hear, value, and honor one another, and even to help each other beautify the arrangement of words for greatest effect. The writing community is vital to the writer, for, ever how old or young, writers sharpen one another, encourage one another, celebrate one another, and grow together in an atmosphere of commitment, accountability, expectancy, sometimes breathless awe, and glorious release.

Above all, let us not fail to see that hidden word in “community”: unity.

Connected by the arc
Of our humanity, we are more than able to
Make one from
Many, to create a vital spectrum
Upholding both me and you.
Numinous, luminous, an
Iridescent inscribing of graffiti
To us, from us, in ink of heart-bent light
You and I define our sky.

The view of my neighborhood, taken from my driveway last week, between thunderstorms.

28 thoughts on “On community

  1. This is so beautiful and what I have learned since joining this community is the genuine power of online relationships. While many disparage the notion of building “real” relationships online, they would never doubt that long distance relationships survived and thrived during the war years. The pandemic is teaching us to build connections in new ways, and this site, reading your work, has allowed me to experience this first hand.

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    • What a fabulous point you make about long-distance relationships thriving during the war years. Then, as now, people adapted by showing love and support in new ways (care packages then; thank heaven for technology now, when people can actually see each others’ faces – especially those of loved ones). This online writing community thrives even though we are all over the word; this is the hub connecting us all. I had a sort of sense of that with the rainbow – being interconnected under a benevolent, safe, inspiring rim. Thank you so much for your words, Melanie.

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    • I can think of so many ways a rainbow is like a community, Betsy – beautiful as a whole, comprised of many different parts that make the whole breathtaking. And … didn’t know this until after I looked at the photo,,, that’s a double rainbow! I looked back at the sky in surprise and sure enough – there it was.

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  2. Oh. My. Goodness. Such a gorgeous description of community!

    “A writing community, then, is a gathering of the courageous in a place where it is safe to share the pieces of one’s soul on the collective pages, with the responsibility to hear, value, and honor one another, and even to help each other beautify the arrangement of words for greatest effect.” YES to this! (Can we borrow this for the 14th Annual SOLSC and attribute it to you, Fran? If so, please send me an email and lmk that it would be okay.)

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    • One of the reasons I came to TWT was to make myself share my writing with others, Stacey; if I was going to encourage children to write and share, I needed to walk the walk. I always loved to write but was more inclined to share when I was younger … I became more guarded as I grew older. So, that sense of courage about putting your soul on the page (or screen!) for others to see is intense and real to me; whenever I facilitated wring workshops and writing PD for teachers, it kept me ever-mindful about feedback. It keeps me mindful here when I respond to others. I could say so much more (maybe in a future post!) but will stop with this: The TWT community is a gift. I have learned so much from all the co-authors and participants. I find something new in every post I read. The SOLSC itself is an extraordinary challenge – and invaluable; in it I’ve learned things about MYSELF that I wouldn’t have, otherwise. Delighted for you to use the quote next year – thank you for asking, and know how grateful I am for this community, for every golden thread running through it – and beyond it.

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    • Thanks so much, Christine – this writing community means a tremendous deal to me and I am deeply grateful for it. It is like a rainbow in so many ways… a thing of beauty, multifaceted, inspiring, seeing from different perspectives, comforting, and even breathtaking in turn. A community is a mirror of individual souls … the photo .. if you look closely … that’s a double rainbow.

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  3. Your thoughts on community paralleled a recent discussion I had with a friend. The quotes you shared are wonderful and I enjoyed reading your reflections as well. I’m super impressed that you pulled off a double acrostic! Wow! And another Wow for that gorgeous rainbow. Thanks for a great post and one that will leave me thinking…

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    • I love those quotes, Molly – and truth be told, community, like writing, is a matter of the spirit.., and, that happens to be a double rainbow! Hence the mirroring of
      “community” in the double acrostic. I didn’t even see the second arc until I took the photo. Thank you for your response. 🙂

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  4. “You and I define our sky.” Love love love that final line. I was rereading and savoring that last line, when I thought, “Wait, what in the world is a double acrostic poem?” Then I looked more closely, and holy moly! I have never seen that before. The symmetry in the form you have chosen fits so well with the theme of the post and your photo.

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    • I think I’m happiest with that final line, Amy – and thank you. We DO define our sky – our atmosphere, our zeitgeist. We make it what it is. This is my first double acrostic… and I didn’t know, until after I took the photo, that I’d captured a double rainbow (it’s faint, but it’s there). Hadn’t even seen it in the sky. I wasn’t sure if all these elements would tie together, but as I wrote I thought of the photo and standing there that day looking at the rainbow – in a wordless way, everything connected.

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  5. There is so much to treasure in this post – the quotes you included, your poem, your thoughts. What a great post. I especially loved this explanation: ” A writing community, then, is a gathering of the courageous in a place where it is safe to share the pieces of one’s soul on the collective pages, with the responsibility to hear, value, and honor one another, and even to help each other beautify the arrangement of words for greatest effect.”

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    • I am so glad you enjoyed the post, Trina – those quotes on community really struck me with their truths. About that paragraph and courage – it took me forever to start sharing what I wrote with others, although I always loved to write. But it’s vital, as we know. for growth – other people can sometimes see so much more in our writing than we do ourselves. I love watching the light shine out of children’s faces when they share their work and get responses from each other.

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  6. There are lots of WOWs in your post and I just love it. Thank you for sharing your positive and beautiful thoughts, emotions, perspectives, and mindsets as always.

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  7. I missed the double acrostic on my first reading, although I had a flash of wondering about the capitalized letters at the end of the lines. When I read someone’s comment about a double acrostic, I had to check if that was a double rainbow in your photo (and there was)! We show up week after week (some more faithfully than others) to sharpen, encourage, and celebrate each other and to grow together. Thanks for you kind, encouraging words.

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    • Your perceptiveness amazes me, Ramona – that IS a double rainbow! Funny thing is, I didn’t see it until after I took the photo. l had to look back at the sky and, yes – there it was, the faint second arc. I had a sense of all of us in the neighborhood (i.e., community) being under its protective rim, within its benevolent bubble … I knew I wanted to write a poem but struggled with form. Sometimes you need freedom/free verse. sometimes you need tight parameters to keep from floating too far away. I’ve really developed a new appreciation for acrostics of late, stretching the form a bit. This is my first double. So delighted you caught the mirroring of the rainbow and the poem – for in a community, especially a writing community, we mirror one another in many ways.

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  8. Being part of a writing community does take courage, especially when you first join. It is difficult to put yourself out there not knowing how you will be accepted. I can’t think of a more accepting of encouraging community than TWT. I know I have become a better writer and have taken chances with my writing because of this community.

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  9. Wow, Fran, your quotations, thoughts, and poem have moved me! I love the connections you have made with community, writing community, and a rainbow. Your definition of a writing community is perfect. It is exactly how I feel about the poetry writer’s community. The poetry writer’s community has been a lifesaver for me during the pandemic. Before the pandemic I followed some blogs, but I wasn’t consistent. Now, that I have found the poetry writers and from them other writing communities I feel like I’m home. You and others have become my mentors. It’s like being at a workshop at any time of the day. I so needed these connections and growth. I am grateful and happy. Thank you.

    Months ago you reached out to me about sharing some of my poetry by email to you. I wasn’t ready then. I am now. Would it be all right if I shared some soon? My email is gailaldous@msn.com. I thought I saved your email address, but I’m sorry to say I can’t find it.

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  10. Fran, I checked back to see if I shared my response and I realized I must have fallen asleep while writing because I remember my husband took my computer when he saw I was sitting up in bed asleep. Anyways, here goes again: Unity in community stands out because a community must be unified as a trusting body of members. In our case, it is the writing that fuels our spirits in a rainbow of thoughts. Your words speak:
    Numinous, luminous, an
    Iridescent inscribing of graffiti
    To us, from us, in ink of heart-bent light—
    You and I define our sky.
    What a glorious way to end your slice with these words and the rainbow connecting life.

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    • Carol, thanks so much for taking the time to “re-compose” this beautiful reply. “Writing that fuels our spirits in a rainbow of thoughts…” – your words do this for your readers! Definitely for me. Yes, that word “trust” is vital to unity in community. It’s what makes a place “safe.” If we don’t trust one another, we create a charged atmosphere building up into a storm (we define our sky). Always so grateful for your discernment and grace.

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  11. Beautiful acrostic! “Create a vital spectrum” jumped out at me, with diversity and equity at the heart of our approach to education this year. We need our different talents, thoughts, perspectives to be a successful community.
    Fran, I’d love to share this post with my school community as we begin our year together–the assistants joined us yesterday, so we are finally all on calendar, a perfect time to read about community. May I have your permission to do so? Thanks so much for being a vital part of my community!

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    • I am glad you enjoyed the acrostic, Chris, and especially that you caught the “create a vital spectrum line.” Diversity brings a glorious harmony to the whole, like the colors in a rainbow. I am honored you’d like to share the poem – please do. l would love to know the response! I am equally, deeply grateful for your presence in, and rich contributions, to my community – such vital part, indeed.

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