I confess that while I’ll likely continue to call this series the Friday Afternoon Confessional – there’s tags at stake here – I’m dumping Friday afternoons. From other blog endeavors, I know Friday afternoons are not exactly prime for blog traffic and at this particular point in time, I like to delude myself into thinking a more optimal posting time will increase traffic in these parts. Programming notes aside, on to proper confessions.
Elaine: I’ll be ostracized from the community.
Jerry: What community? There’s a community?
Elaine: Of course there’s a community.
Jerry: All these years I’m living in a community. I had no idea.
Seinfeld, Season 3, Episode 11, “The Alternate Side”
I saw this episode the other day and it made me realize something I can confess. I’ve never really been part of a community. Unlike Jerry, I’ve often felt like I was part of a community but as I review people I stay in touch with and where I met them, there aren’t too many common threads. If I’ve been in communities, they haven’t stuck.
As a city planner, I’m constantly talking about communities and a lot of my decisions (both at home and at work) are made in an effort to help “the community”. So this realization was a little bit alarming. In an attempt to find something I could consider a community I was a part of, I cycled through the possible sources.
My neighborhood? I don’t know a single person in my neighborhood whose property is not adjacent to mine. Even among that very limited group, I don’t know the name of the woman from across the street who I talk to from time to time. I also don’t have kids, so there’s no opportunity to meet other families from my neighborhood through school. Obviously, I have whiffed on any opportunities to nurture a sense of local community in the past eight years.
Work? It’s true I’ve done a decent job of building good working relationships with nearly everybody I work with. I’m friendly and polite at work. I’m a negotiator in my union. But community? That’s a stretch. I’ve never hung out with a single person from my work outside of work or work functions. When I’ve thrown parties at my house, my invitations extended to co-workers were (I think) understood by all to be exercises in manners. Nobody was coming and I didn’t expect them to.
Other opportunities to be part of a community? I suppose there’s where I grew up, but going to Catholic school and living in a neighborhood where only three of the kids I used to hang out with didn’t end up doing time in jail limited that opportunity. I haven’t spoken, except on Facebook, to a single person from the school where I did my undergraduate work since I left. I met one of my best friends in grad school, but two good buddies does not a community make.
I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a restaurant or bar where workers and patrons knew who you were. I’ve just never been enamored enough with the idea to actually put any effort toward it. The closest we came was waitresses at Buffalo Wild Wings recognizing us and when we realized that was happening, we took it as a sign we were spending too much time there. We’ve stopped, for the most part.
Add it all up and my wife and I have our families and a fairly small network of friends who were plucked from various facets of our respective histories. It works. We’re happy. But there’s nothing there that could really be called a community. If this friend gets a job promotion and leaves town and that friend has a baby, it could leave us fairly isolated.
Part of me is curious as to how my wife and I would react. Would we become closer friends with couples we only occasionally see now? Or maybe we’d take it as an opportunity to try harder to move somewhere else in the country? Either way, I’m beginning to wonder if our chance to ever belong to a community has passed. I know my wife doesn’t care too much about that possibility. I’m starting to realize that my choices and actions through the years are pretty much proof I don’t either.
How about you good reader? Can you claim a stake in a community that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a monitor and thinking of pithy comments? I think the natural course of this conversation is to consider modern society’s impact on building communities, but does every conversation have to go down that road? If so, far be it from me to go against the wishes of the community. I don’t want to be ostracized.