This I Believe
I believe in the power of community to enrich, sustain, prolong, and even save our lives. It has had most of these effects in my own life, and I wish that everyone could experience its benefits.
I first became aware of the benefit of community ties as a way to combat depression as I emerged from a painful divorce. If a feeling of isolation could make me despair, I thought, a feeling of belonging to a group might serve as a buffer against despair. So I joined a couple of community groups, and gradually found my way into ones that really suited me: a church whose tenets I shared; a book club whose members are lively, articulate, and curious about the world; and a discussion group I thoroughly enjoy. What surprised me was that the benefits of belonging to these groups extended far beyond just keeping me out of the pit of depression. They give me ways to participate and be useful in the community, new windows on the world and exposure to new insights, new opportunities to grow as a person, and the chance to meet a variety of wonderful people I would never have encountered otherwise. Each of these groups has greatly enriched my life.
But the value of community did not really hit home until a year and a half ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After explaining the nature of my aggressive, fast-growing cancer and the surgical options available, the nurse asked whether I had a support network. “Not really,” I said, with that hollow feeling in the pit of the stomach that you get when you realize you have made a dreadful mistake in your life. Fortunately, I was wrong. In the next few weeks, as friends, coworkers, neighbors, and fellow church members and club members came forward to help, a full-blown support network seemed to come out of nowhere. My church organized a care program for the first few weeks after my mastectomy. People brought me meals, sent cards, drove me to doctors’ appointments, and called me on the phone to commiserate and offer help. Flowers came when I least expected them. What moved me most was how cheerfully friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers whose names I didn’t recognize pitched in to help me out, or sent expressions of support, expecting nothing in return. Never in my life have I felt so supported and cared for. It was a miracle, one that I will never forget.
If I could reap such rich benefits from belonging to a community, then everyone deserves to have them. I believe that each of us is responsible for helping to build the kind of community that will sustain us all. Imagine a world where everyone has a sense of belonging, everyone has ways to participate and feel valued, and everyone is supported and cared for in times of need. That is the kind of world we can create, and it is well worth the effort.
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