Communities offer joy in surprising places
You might ask why I am always talking about building up our community. We often carry an image of our country as having been built by the drive of individuals. Today, it seems as though we are constantly pushed by the complexities of our integrated living conditions. We feel as though everyone knows everything about us in this computer age, and we are bombarded with inquiries and information from all over the world. Organizations and institutions constantly approach us to participate. (Do you ever feel as though you want to sneak off to a remote area and live by yourself?)
What is it that keeps drawing us back into the dynamics of a varied and active community of people?
Allow me to tell you a story of my move into a new community after my husband was elected lieutenant governor.
We moved into an old Victorian house from our familiar home in Harrison County. We may not have been close friends with everyone in Corydon, but we sure knew who they were and felt comfortable with them. Our new home was located in a neighborhood in transition. It had been a vibrant and wealthy place in which to live in the 1800s but had been allowed to deteriorate into a semi-war zone in the ’50s and ’60s. By 1988, the first urban pioneers had cleared much of the decay away.
Our home sat positioned between two low-income subsidized housing complexes, an abandon parking lot, several overgrown vacant lots, a house museum and an old American Legion hall that was being used by a German singing club. What a mix, and it all provided a totally new experience for Frank and I, having just come from a small and rather homogeneous community.
I knew there were about 45 children living in the run-down apartments on either side of our house, but I rarely saw them. I never met the children until that first day I began to work in the garden next to our home. Gradually, the kids let their curiosity overcome their fears and they began to talk to me, asking what I was doing and inquiring if they could help dig. Silently, their moms came checking on the children and stood at a distance, not wanting to interact with the woman from the nice house next door. That was how we spent the first summer.
The second summer, we had a flock of kids who found that digging in dirt to plant flowers and vegetables could be fun. So, we created a community garden. The hesitant parents became part of the action when we called on them to help with the watering. They began to feel included and, indeed, needed.
Next to the garden stood a gigantic old brick church. It must have looked quite intimidating from the outside. However, most of its congregation had fled to the suburbs and the small group that remained was struggling to stay alive. Our family worshiped in that church, and we worked hard to break down barriers that kept folks in the neighborhood from participating. One Sunday, two of the garden moms accepted my plea to join us and sing a duet. They were wonderful and had a sound that one rarely hears. After church, I ran home to tell my friends that, without the garden experience, I would never have gotten to hear Tracy and Beverly sing. My son responded, ‘Mom, you wouldn’t even have known that they COULD sing.’
We don’t know what others can bring to our lives until we join them and do something together. In the process, we forget that we are different and lose ourselves in a common purpose and we become friends. We need such friends to help us build confidence in these troubling times.
I had a life-changing experience living in the inner city and being part of making the neighborhood better. It gave me purpose and a sense of belonging. We found that those who built up the neighborhood did not tear it down. It was theirs, and they felt the pride of having created it. In the past, I had found this same sense of satisfaction from our historic celebrations around the First State Capitol and the development of the Main Street program in Corydon.
Harrison County is not the war zone our old Indy neighborhood was in the past. But, we do get busy and forget to connect with those around us; our lives are more bland and often void of real camaraderie with other human beings. It is much easier to neglect being helpful and easier to become critical if we don’t know each other’s names.
The news is full of events of stress and discord these days. Russia is on the move, shootings of young people are taking place throughout our country and medical care continues to be a source of discontent. In times like this, we really need to feel the joy of being part of a vibrant, caring community. We in Harrison County are a mix of old residents, new commuters from Louisville and new immigrants to our country. Let’s plant our own seeds for growth in cooperation, understanding and physical infrastructure. There is joy to be found in surprising places.
Come join in the planning for our county’s future. You never know where you will find your own rejuvenation.