Tag Archives: community

Who Is Your Family?

IMG_5893.JPGNow that Christmas is over, I can finally say it:”I hate Christmas.” I know many people that feel the same way, and it has nothing to do with it being a Christian holiday. Instead, it’s about the idea that “family” should get together once or twice a year to binge on food and “be there” for their family even if throughout the year they couldn’t be bothered. I can’t speak for everybody’s family, and I’m sure I’m exaggerating with my own family, but it’s just that being of the same blood doesn’t mean all that much to me when I don’t even see these people most of the year. That may be the modern lifestyle, but that just means to me that we have to redefine the meaning of family and, with that, the meaning of Christmas. Family, to me, are the people that were here for me during the tough times, on a day-to-day basis. Christmas can be any day of the year you choose to give of yourself to others.

Raise Your Hand If You’re A Single Mother

Being a single mother, as it is with many single mothers, Christmas and Thanksgiving were not times of joy for me in the past. They were times of extreme hardship. If it wasn’t the lack of money, it was the fact that many times my daughter was spending time with her father during the holidays, even when it was my turn. Others have their families all together, and they think that this is the atmosphere I want to be in when Christmas time rolls around? This is not my idea of a good time, and I doubt anyone would think it is if they were in my shoes, but people rarely put themselves in your shoes.  Instead, because Christmas is a time to make merry, they insist that you participate too, whether you like it or not.  They don’t realize that letting me out of their festivities would be the kindest thing they could do for me. I even tried to get out of Christmas one year by telling my family that I was not available because I was taking a trip. They just showed up earlier. They just don’t get it. I don’t want to be around them during the holidays. It’s not personal, it’s just not pleasant for me. Now, I’ve finally said it: I’m not showing up for Christmas, no matter what the reason. If they wish to show up during the rest of the year to be there on a day-to-day basis for tears as well as laughter, they are more than welcome. Otherwise, Christmas is not the time I want to get together with people who don’t share my life in this manner, whether they are blood-related or not. I’d rather spend it with the others who showed up when times were tough.

Are People Getting Why Christmas Is A Farce?

During the recession, I’m sure many other people got a hint of how tough it is to celebrate a season when you just don’t have the funds, when people expect you to put on a show, when the gas or electricity is being shut off and no one is noticing. Even so, those that still have their spouses and kids are blessed, as I am, to have that connection around, and I also have connections in the neighborhood with other people who aren’t even close relatives that I consider my true family. Why? It’s because even though I don’t mention it, I notice the small things they do to support me and my daughter in every day actions. Sometimes it shows up in a filled up tank of gas, a dinner invitation, or even free clothes. It’s really not about the material benefits of having other people care throughout the year, it’s knowing that someone actually does care and that they are willing to sacrifice some of their own time and effort to make sure my daughter and I are well taken care of. It’s a feeling of having an extended network of people within the city, my community, that is caring and sharing their resources, and not just showing them off. It’s the phone call I get to talk about what they can help me with (even if I don’t accept), not about their new job, baby, or whatever. The phone call is appreciated when there is obvious caring behind it. It’s also about the follow up where they show up at my door and get rid of hornets in my yard, or replace a worn carpet, not because they need the work and want payment, but because they saw a need and they wanted to help. Those are the people I feel connected to, and those are the people I call family.

I Love My Adopted Families

To be honest, in almost the past 30 years, the only time I’ve seen my actual blood relatives has been when they were celebrating something. I have to shell out money to show up, and you know, most of the time I’m not in the mood to celebrate. It’s a major effort for me to show up, it can cost me work time which I need to keep solvent, travel costs, and money in gas, lodging, and food. I am generally completely obligated to show up, even if I just don’t want to, even if I had the money.  I have to sit and listen to people who I have little in common with. It’s not that I dislike my family at all, it’s just that there is not the same connection I have with others who were more caring during the year and available within the same city on a day to day basis. Why would I suddenly feel the urge to be with somebody who I haven’t seen in person during the entire year, and who was very busy with their own life? A year is a long time to be left alone. If I left my cat alone for a year, I don’t think it would ever forgive me, yet people do this to other people all the time because it’s a modern way of life that values this sense of disconnection and distance. We really don’t want to hear about the tough times, we just want to talk about the fun things. We have no idea how to create community, even when these are people within our own blood relatives.

This year I decided I would no longer show up to family functions. My kid is grown up, and I don’t feel obligated to show up to visit with people whose connection resides in blood, instead of actual support and sharing. It’s not that I have something against my relatives, it’s that I value the community of people that were present with me all year long more. It’s the presence I value, not the blood. It reminds me to be present too. It creates an environment that can sustain me and my daughter, and others likewise, whether we celebrate Christmas or not.  I’m also thinking I am going to nurture and grow my adopted families more, even though the relationship is already mutually beneficial. I just think I understand now how to help others a little more, and it has nothing to do with a dollar bill or bloodlines, celebrations, or Christmas. Sometimes, all we need is for someone else to be willing to be present with us during the tough times, not just the good ones, and that creates a bond of community stronger than blood.

Community and Sustainability

feast.jpgI have been trying to figure out how to build community within our self-centered, capitalistic, system. It doesn’t seem like the two go hand-in-hand. I remember I tried to set up a community freelance site for writers and it flopped before I got it done. I think it didn’t work because people don’t want to have to work without cash to get a community system up – they expect to be paid for it. I also tried to set up a community website at a non-profit, and again, the community refused to step up to the plate. People say they are going to be involved but then the majority find ways to excuse themselves from being involved in a community project. It takes up too much of their time and they are simply too busy unless it has a dollar attached to it. But, then, places like Craigslist and Wikipedia are able to set up communities without paying people, however, not eveyone makes a profit either. So, how would you set up a community that is sustainable without engaging in overt greed and profit mongering?

Church Communities

I’ve noticed church communities are great for building sustainable communities, but the wealth is really not spread across its membership. If you give to the church, they take that money and use it to pay their staff and the buildings. Extra doesn’t go back to the membership. Yet, many volunteers donate lots of time to run a church and they don’t get paid for their services. However, we all need to survive in a capitalistic economy, so why aren’t they compensated if they need their services so much? There should be other ways besides money to compensate volunteers. If we are engaged in a capitalistic system, it doesn’t seem fair then to engage free labor. I think it’s this mentality that volunteers are free labor that is killing non-profits. There is a conflict between our economic environment and the needs of the volunteers. It’s hardly a sustainable community if the membership isn’t being supported materially as well as spiritually.

Tribal Communities

When you look at how some of the older tribal communities worked, things were a bit more even and co-operative. If one person had too much wealth, they were expected to share that wealth with others in their village by hosting feasts. It was a privilege to be asked to host a feast because people recognized that you were in God’s favor and had wealth to spare. It also provided a great deal of unity within a village and helped those who were less well off. This type of community isn’t just about supporting a structure or a building, but about taking care of all the villager’s needs. There was some sense of social responsibility that, to put it bluntly, we just don’t have in the United States. Everyone is in it for themselves. Is it a difference in culture or is it just our own self-centeredness and short-sightedness that keeps us from helping others in need? Or is the capitalistic system just set up as a competitive game that will never make it easy to build community within? I wish I knew. I do know that you do have to return something back to the community that gives to you, even if you don’t give it back to the individual. Otherwise, it is not sustainable. Community and sustainability go hand-in-hand, even if they conflict with capitalism right now.

*Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by ^riza^