We’ve Lost Our Sense of Community
Is engagement a thing of the past?
I was out of town in a small place in southern Arizona. It was dusty and still hot. I had gone camping by myself to clear my head and write.
I needed a place that had wi-fi so I could publish the piece I wrote the night before. I actually had to ask around until someone told me the coffee shop has wi-fi. THE coffee shop. As in, the only one.
The town is a little bit like Mayberry if Mayberry had been built in the middle of the desert.
The patio was small and there were six gentleman sitting on the patio having their coffee and talking. It was the kind of place where when you go in to get your coffee there’s an old-time register and the radio is playing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”
These guys were talking about the main events for the day. Fred’s new rider mower. Whether John got the old Dodge up and running again. Apparently, the mayor of Wilcox makes $400 a month and a member of the City Council makes $200.
One gentleman was wearing suspenders and another man had a token white handkerchief sticking out of the back pocket of his slacks.
It seemed to me that they do this on a regular basis. Most of us don’t do this at all. Sure, we have business meetings at Starbucks.
That’s what community is turned into. We meet other people for business. But that’s not necessarily community. It’s commerce.
We’ve lost our sense of connection. These guys were well-connected to each other and there was some old guy camaraderie that was fun to listen to. God bless them, they were really kind to the nice lady with her tiny dog and her laptop.
We need more of this. We need more of what is called the third place. There’s work and then there’s home and there’s the third place. That third place is where community happens. But, we as a society have separated ourselves from other people.
It seemed to happen, in part, when we started moving garages to the front of houses and replacing porches.
My neighbors just come home, open the garage, let it close behind them, and go into the house without saying a single word.
I can tell you I have lived in my house for 12 years and only know the names of people in three houses on my street. Yesterday, I struggled in my front yard to fix a mainline break. At one point, I was so overwhelmed that I sobbed on my lawn, covered in mud and blue plumbers glue. Three people walked right by me. No one said a thing.
We’ve become isolated and uncaring. We’re afraid of our neighbors. We don’t sit outside in front of our homes. We don’t have cake in the pantry in case company comes over because company never comes. We want gates, not parks.
On some Fridays, I stop for a drink on my way home from work. There is always the same group of retired guys from New York at the end of the bar. It’s their Friday ritual. They get together, watch the Yankees and give each other a ration of shit like you can’t believe. I love them.
On occasion, they let me join them. They welcome me. Except Tom. Tom can’t figure out who invited the broad.
I can’t help but feel that if we let people in, if we engaged, if we spent more time genuinely connecting, we’d all be better off. We’d be softer. We’d be kinder. We’d live longer, for God’s sake.
Without human connection we’re lost. I may be the last of dying breed and more Polyanna than I should be. I don’t care. That’s fine. If you need me, I’ll be watching the Yankee game with the boys.