Restoring a Sense of Community

This post is not going to be a traditional post. It was my Sunday newsletter, and I want to share it here. Earlier this week, two police officers were shot and killed when responding to a domestic violence call here in Westerville, Ohio, the place I call home. Within 24 hours, 17 people died in a school shooting in Florida, most of them children not too much younger than my own. One of my daughters called me to tell me she was afraid to go back to school the next day. What do you say to a kid that witnesses something so horrific to people who look just like her?

Not to worry, this note is not going to be about gun violence and the surrounding politics. I don’t write about politics, and I am not political. This post is about you and me and how we respond to the world we live in now.

Immediately after the horrific incident in Florida, I asked my wife to tell me the first names of the couple that lives across the street. She confessed that she did not know their names. I don’t know their names either, just that the husband is a grouchy, old former Marine who hates when my kid’s friends park in front of his house. To be fair, my wife worked as a school nurse and knows most of the parents and kids from the neighborhood schools. But we don’t know them. There is not the same sense of community. I know very few people in my neighborhood and spend almost no time with those I do.

In the apartment complex where I lived from 7 years old to 17 years old, everyone knew everyone else. I know this because whenever I did anything sketchy, my Mom would know before I got home. Once a friend I was with busted open a video game at the pizza shop and stole all the quarters. The police were waiting at my apartment before I got there. I emptied my pockets for the police officer who I saw in the convenience store on my way to school every day. He left my apartment and headed straight to my friend’s house.

The woman from Italy who lived behind us and hardly spoke English was struggling to take care of her three kids. My mom was raising four kids herself, and she was just making ends meet. I am not sure how she found a way to buy me and my sibling’s presents, let alone buy gifts for another family. Her mom, my grandmother, raised five kids by herself, and no one that showed up to her house ever left without dinner. I am not as good as they were, even though it would be easier for me.

What’s missing is a sense of community, a sense of caring, a sense of obligation to one another. This past week I read two articles about Facebook and the damage it now realizes it is doing. The platform has turned into a place where divisiveness lives and thrives, with everything now being politicized. This dialogue is somehow not the same as the public square, where people who live next door to each other might argue their opinions and remain friends. The digital community does not produce the same result as a real one.

All things being equal, relationships win. I am still long on human relationships. But some of us need to go first. Some of us must decide to rebuild a sense of real community. We must do our part. I have committed to starting, and I hope this note finds you in a place where you commit to doing the same.

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