Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Embracing community


Last week I attended a memorial service for an acquaintance of mine who died suddenly, and while the experience of saying "goodbye" to someone is always sad, this particular service was heartening to me. The man who died was a firefighter with the Sun Valley Fire Department and also an associate of mine at the Community School. Not only did several teachers and friends attend from those days when he helped out at school, but the firemen from Sun Valley came out in numbers to salute their former friend and wish him farewell. An entourage of fire trucks and other vehicles, lights flashing, drove to the Hemingway memorial to send his wife off with his ashes to be scattered near one of their favorite hiking venues. She was accompanied by their dog and several people who also wanted to share that final hike. I was moved by the sense of community all of this exhibited: his co-workers, friends and the town he loved joining together to wish him farewell.

Often people ask me why I stay in the Wood River Valley now that I no longer work full time here, and my response is usually the same: I feel part of a close-knit community and like this attachment. No visit to the market or the post office is devoid of some personal connection or greeting. If that changed, I would leave, because I am the kind of person who must be near loving people.

Recent studies conducted to examine the elements of happiness—who really knows—find that the most important quality in contributing to someone's joy is the connection he or she has with other human beings. Cliched as this may seem, I am reminded of Edna St. Vincent Millay's line in a sonnet in which she talks about love—that it is not "a roof against the rain" but then concludes, "Yet many a man is making friends with death ... for lack of love alone." The sense of isolation from one's fellows is, indeed, crucial for most people, not just in a romantic sense, but even in the larger sense of love of all kinds.

This past April, I attended a performance directed by Patty Parsons of the Sun Valley Hallelujah Chorus honoring emancipation and celebrating songs of "forbearance, faith and freedom." Not only was the house full, but many in the audience sang along or clapped to the music borne of slavery and hope. Dozens stayed a long time after to share in the glow this event created. I would conservatively estimate that I knew two-thirds of those attending, and many expressed the feeling that this was a true community event, that the feelings stimulated were those of connection and pride that we live in a place where we can enjoy such evenings.

Of course, we experience this at many of the events here. I sing in a couple of choirs because I truly thrive in the company of other performers, that special sense of pulling something together and making beautiful sounds next to people we know. We have many opportunities in this valley to share our talents and passions.


Shortly after 9/11, James Taylor still managed to get here for an outdoor concert, a memorable experience to say the least. There were many times when the whole audience seemed to be hugging, embracing each other in the comfort of his gift to us—words of connection and love. I will not soon forget that time with my friends and family.

Even last night at an annual meeting of our condominium association, something most people dread attending, I basked in the camaraderie we had, unusual but lucky and maybe because we live so close together. It was as if everyone had decided to be positive in approaching any issues brought up.

A few weeks ago I went with my daughter who lives here to visit my other daughter and her husband and son in San Francisco. One afternoon, we three women and my grandson were sitting on the floor of the living room, playing games and just wallowing in the positive energy around us. I turned to my daughters and told them that truly this was the best illustration of what I define as happiness: being with people I love and taking the time to enjoy every minute we have together. I wish for all of you that form of happiness, among all the other ways we can possibly be fulfilled.

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