Recently a writers’ organization asked me to contribute a post for their members on the theme of community.
It seemed like such a perfect fit given the camaraderie and inspiration I’ve always found among the community of writers. How much I had to say about the topic! About how writers lift one another up, how our community of fellow creatives can be a source of support, encouragement, insight, belonging, can chase away the shadows of isolation that we can fall into as we create worlds from our cloistered solitude—a safety net and a blanket.
But quite honestly, lately it’s hard to feel connected to a sense of community.
It’s not that I’m suffering from pandemic isolation and loneliness—in fact my husband jokes that my social life has been busier since COVID than it was when I could actually go out, and he’s right. Like a lot of us I have plenty of Zoom dates and socially distant outdoor get-togethers. Despite that we have no kids, a pod of neighborhood children have even taken to bringing picnics and sitting in our backyard, happily grooming our Great Pyrenees that they’ve fallen in love with and chattering among one another and to me (but mostly to our dog).
And among the writing and publishing community I still find safe harbor and daily nourishment. I’ve spent hours of time on phone calls with authors struggling to create in these “interesting times” we’re living. I started reaching out directly to other editors whose work I’d seen or heard good things about, for no other reason than a collegial connection, which resulted in some of us collaborating on a free online event to help authors edit and revise their own writing and so far has reached more than 700 writers.
And yet outside this warm bubble of fellowship and solidarity, the world is more ideologically polarized than most of us ever remember in our lifetimes. Societal civil-rights issues and a climate crisis and a global pandemic that should have reminded us all how interdependent we are instead have somehow become political issues and polarized us even further. Neighbors turn against neighbors, friendships dissolve, family rifts form or widen.
What do any of our paltry handful of connections matter in the big picture when the world population of nearly eight billion people seems divided in half and at one another’s throats? What does community actually mean if it doesn’t extend outside our little bubbles?
As I often do when my mind spirals into these dark places, I looked for solace in story.
Real-life ones—like this true Lord of the Flies news item about a group of young boys stranded on a desert island for 15 months, but instead of turning on one another as in the famous novel they worked cooperatively, including forming a makeshift government to delegate everyone’s duties in the hard work of survival and, when one of the boys broke his leg, dividing his work among them so he could heal—and who stayed banded together long after their rescue.
Like the woman who recently posted on NextDoor, “My 74-year-old husband would like to have a partner to throw the ball with,” and started a socially distant neighborhood game of catch that drew a crowd from high school players to retirees connecting over the most American pastime of baseball.
Like this Twitter thread that reminded me how magnificently kind people can be, and the impact even a single connection can have.
I’ve found comfort in fictional stories too, like Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, which widened my perspective to consider previous times we’ve struggled to mend tears in our social fabric, and the progress that’s been made. That showed how families can be torn apart…and put back together…and even when they can’t how hearts can heal.
Like Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, which I find myself rereading passages from at random like a Bible of family strife that reminds me that differences are things you can learn to live with and accept and maybe even appreciate.
Like Marriage Story, a Netflix film about an agonizing divorce that viscerally, heartachingly showed me how you can love people even if you may not always like them, and you can work together for the greater good of something you both care deeply about, like a child (or a population…or a nation…or a planet…).
The sense of community I read about in these stories fed my deep-seated, foundational longing for that kind of broader human connection. It reminded me how decent and good people can be. How much we have in common. The astonishing and transformative things we can do when we come together that are the closest humanity can come to being sublime.
The stories gave me hope. They restored my faith. They always do.
Community makes our world manageable and livable. It brings the unimaginably enormous, faceless global population down to the individual souls around you, a microcosm of the world—a slice of life, if you will…just as we create in our writing.
And just as we focus our stories on a handful of individuals facing challenges and undergoing growth and change as a way of crystallizing universal and widely relatable truths about the human experience, maybe the communities we create and draw around us will help contribute to a more global coming-together. A healing.
Maybe not. I don’t know. But really all we can control in a world that often seems lately to be running off the rails is the community immediately around us: family, friends, our neighborhood and town, our writing and publishing comrades. We can engage, listen, assist, enjoy, learn, empathize. We can try to put as much good into our immediate worlds as we’re able, and see and appreciate all the good in the people around us.
We can be part of the community.
These connections we create matter for the bonds they create in our lives, and the way they Doppler out to the wider world. And the stories we write and the communities we create within them matter too. They affect people. Make them think. Maybe offer a new perspective and understanding of those they might have formerly dismissed as “other.”
And maybe that’s how we help bring the world back together—one person, one connection, one story at a time.