Community (Reverb 10, Day 7)

Today’s prompt: Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

Yesterday, I spent some time rocking a baby. We were a community of two. That’s a comfortable number for a rocking chair. For a time, we were a community of three when a two-year-old joined us, and that can be fun in appropriate doses as well, but we did alright with just the two of us. It was better than sitting in front of a desk for me and better than napping alone in a crib for her. It was also better than holding the baby with one hand and doing household chores with the other for her mother. This was a win, win, win scenario.

When they start asking who spoiled that baby, some fingers will point to me. I don’t know why we call it spoiling, though, when we are talking about conditioning an infant to expect the comfort of being held and rocked. Providing human contact is just meeting a basic need. Even a virtual semi-hermit like me knows that.

I rock the baby because I enjoy rocking her and because I want to help her mother, but I also rock her because I want a bond with her. As she grows, I want her to know me and to love me. When she’s older, I want her to remember to come by and see me at the nursing home. I want a relationship with her.

I have a big family. I am the youngest of six, and I am in my forties. My family grows bigger each year because my brothers and sisters get new grandchildren. This baby is my grandniece. She will have a new cousin in just two more months, and I will have a lot of rocking to do.

It would be easy for this family to drift in all different directions. We are not just six siblings. We are six completely different people with completely different personalities, interests, opinions, and priorities. We would be hard pressed to find any two of us who agree on anything. Yet we almost never engage in open confrontation. We congenially disagree. Mostly. The point is that we care more about having relationships with one another than we care about anyone agreeing with us.

This family has its own culture. It is its own community. We have taught each other how to belong to the group while still being our own people. I often think that people who can’t forgive and can’t manage to shrug off disagreements with friends are people who don’t have enough brothers and sisters. If nothing else, brothers and sisters teach you how to keep on loving no matter how much of a jerk the other person becomes.

People come and go in life. Friends move. Co-workers get other jobs. Couples split. Always, you trade phone numbers and say you will get together soon, but you don’t. Our communities are transient, and we’re okay with that. We’re probably even more conditioned to accept transience in the age of social media when so many of our connections are only peripheral anyway.

I read somewhere recently that humans can really only maintain about 100-150 social connections at a time. I have more than 500 Facebook friends, and I think that’s a low number. Some of my friends have several thousand Facebook friends. I’m not sure it’s possible to know that many people. I’m not sure how many of my Facebook friends I actually know. It doesn’t matter, though, because it is the same 30-50 people I regularly see updates from, and it is the same 5-10 people who regularly respond to my updates. People complain about Facebook making our relationships more superficial, but I don’t think it is. I think they were superficial to start, and Facebook just reminds us of how many superficial connections we have.

Yet however they come to us, those connections are essential. A documentary I saw last week claimed that social connections are the number one factor in determining whether a person will be happy.

So we strive for community everywhere. We need to be part of a group. I have joined groups of many sorts. I have tried to find communities in book clubs, in social media circles, in churches, in professional organizations. Some are really good at fostering community. Church is extra good at this. Teacher organizations where people are very passionate about what they do are extra good at this.

Nowhere is there a stronger sense of community than within a family, though. The difference is that every person in the family has a connection to every other person. The ties are reinforced from multiple directions.

In 2010, I have found a community of two in rocking that little baby. The two of us are part of a bigger community we call family. I will probably connect with more communities and more people than I can handle in 2011. I will probably question whether I’ve surpassed my ability to maintain real relationships in many of those groups. I doubt I’ll get too worked up about that, though. I expect most people I meet and most people I call friend to come and go, to drift in and out of the periphery of my life. That’s the way the busy world works.

Social media doesn’t make our relationships more superficial. It just makes us more aware of how many superficial relationships we have. There is something unnerving about that. There is something in it that makes us want to try harder to find a sense of community.

You go right ahead and find yourself a good community. Let me know when you do in case I want one too. I won’t be hard to find. I’ll be over there, in that rocking chair, holding a baby.