I believe in the power of small community. When I use this phrase, I am not
speaking of the small towns which dot the countryside. Instead, I refer to groups
of people who come together with a common interest or goal. These communities are
often unknown to society in general, but they serve a vital purpose by providing
a place of belonging for countless people. Let me give you a couple examples from
my own family.
My sister is a high school science teacher in a small community on the coast of
Oregon. She works hard at her teaching and cares about her students, wanting them
all to succeed without compromising on her standards of excellence. This, of
course, keeps her very busy, but she finds time to participate in her chosen
community of dog agility. In this group (trainers) spend many patient hours
carefully training their dogs to jump over, weave through, climb up, and otherwise
conquer various obstacles. The dogs must closely attend their trainers to determine
the order and direction they must attempt each of the obstacles, and must accomplish all
of this within a set time limit. My sister has spent many hours training her
Cocker Spaniels, dogs rescued from various difficult living situations before
coming to live with her. The dog agility meets are one place where one can witness the
unique quality of this community. The trainers are a wide cross-section of age,
gender, and physical fitness, as are their dogs. Elderly men with stately
Afghan Hounds pace the grounds with hurried decorum. Young tanned women, sporting
bicycle caps and spandex shorts, fit to enter the next ironman competition, hand-
signal hyperviligant Boarder Collies around the course in record times. Tiny toy
breeds barking continuously as they compete, eager-to-please pooches panting
as they wait for the signal- all have their place. Each dog has a catagory based
on their stature and age. Of course every one would love to win their catagory, but
many compete to better their time, to qualify for various titles, or just to
complete a run. Many a fearful or aggressive dog has become happier by learning
the joy of self-control, team work, and obedience. And many a trainer has found
support and friendship in a community which accepts all comers at every ability.
My brother is an auto mechanic, patiently delving automotive mysteries. He works
hard but doesn’t rake in the dough. He has found community among the members of an
auto-racing club here in Oregon. Most Americans know nothing of this segment of
auto racing. This in not NASCAR or the Indy 500. No, in these races as many as a
dozen different sub-catagories of race cars compete on the track at the same time.
Spectators must watch carefully to detemine which cars are actually competing
against each other. Also different from more popular car races is the fact that
most of the cars resemble the cars you see on the freeway every day. VW rabbits of
the 80s vintage, tilting on 3 or 2 wheels as they round the corners, are suprisingly
fast. Sporty Mazdas buzz around the track powered by rotary engines. Occasionally
vintage cars, the muscle cars of yesteryear, roar down the track with a low growl.
The stands are scarcely populated, filled mostly with family members of the drivers,
cheering and gasping with each pass and spin. There are no big purses for these
races. The drivers shell out entry fees for the sheer love of a fast car and
competition. A walk through the pits reveals the diversity of this community.
Slick motor homes pulling shining trailers emblazened with racing sponsors fill one
of the pits. Down the next row you find the home of local racers, with no more
equipment than a big truck to pull an open air trailer carrying their car. At the
grassy end are the tents and vintage motor homes of the low-budget crowd. The
people are as diverse as their vehicles. Retirees, businessmen looking for a hobby, average
Joes who can never get enough of fast turns and grease guns.
Among these racing devotees my brother has found a place, not just as a member but
as a trusted advisor, a helpful person and a loyal friend. He would not be given
a second glance by most people, but in his community he is valued.
Each of these communities has allowed my siblings to answer the question, “is
there a place for me?” with a resounding, “yes!” While unknown and perhaps
unvalued by society in general, these communities perform a vital service by
giving people a sense of connection with the world around them, devoid of the
pressures of workplace and family. They are places where we can be accepted for
who we are right now, not based on childhood behavior as in families or job
performance at our workplace. I have found joy in these and other small
communities, and will always be grateful for what they have to offer us as a
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