Today I opened the first three volumes of my Great Books series from 1952
by Encyclopedia Britannica, mostly to find the word “community” in the
syntopicon which makes up volumes two and three of the set. These two volumes contain over 100 major themes that frame up what is called “the
great conversation”. At first, I found myself disappointed at not finding the
word community as an entry or essay topic in the syntopicon, but then I took
a second look and recognized a new perspective on the matter.
The specific topic of community was not granted an essay in and of itself
because the entire series is about community. Every one of the topics who
found their themes in the contents of these volumes, every one of the 54
volume set of books, is flooded from cover to cover with community.
Whether the theme is angel or aristocracy, hypothesis or habit, liberty or law,
wealth or wisdom; from Aeschylus to Freud, these volumes in their contents
validate the importance of community and its discussion…
My reason for even having the time to sit down and ponder these thoughts
as a curious piece of history that the world is experiencing right now. We will
leave the historians to do the work of choosing a name for it, but right now
I’m going to refer to it as COVID-19, The name of the virus that has so
quickly found its way around the globe… into large cities and small towns.
Due to COVID-19, national, state, and local governments have asked
nonessential services to pause and for people to stay at home, practicing a
new word called “social distancing” and to “do our part” to stop the spread of
COVID-19. Now, this is where the pieces come together.
Before COVID-19, yes, we are now discussing pre-COVID-19 life, it was
common to be in any given place and see people together mutually ignoring
each other, or at least stealing time, by staring at a handheld screen of some
sort, whether it be to check our likes on social media or something else that
we prioritized above those around us. Somehow, and ironically so, we
thought it quite normal and advisable to try and be multiple places at once,
one physically and the others emotionally, psychologically, or intellectually.
Community and its definition had become compromised, reapplied,
Fast forward to now, April first… the joke appears to have been played by us
on ourselves. Today, social media has become a self-fulfilling wish or dream,
only it shows little fulfillment. It is what we are left with unless we challenge
the 6 foot distancing to speak face-to-face with others outside of our
personal homes. No coffee shop meetings. No sit-down dinners at
restaurants. No physical school. Few working in their places of work. The
very places where we, previous to March 2020, brought our community
distraction devices are now unavailable to us, and what we have available to
us are these devices.
But look at the creativity! Across the globe, people are yearning for
community or whatever version of it they can access. Online friend groups
are exchanging music, recipes, exercise tips. Italians are standing on their
balconies singing opera and pulsing out DJ parties. Teachers are building
online approximations of the courses that they were, until just recently,
teaching in a physical classroom.
We desire our community again, recognizing that electronica is not
community. Only a couple of weeks have passed since our region has asked
us to stay at home, but already we prove the deep visceral importance of
community. We want it. We desire it. We are confused without it. We need it.
What curious irony it is that this very serious and, for many, tragic time has
brought on. Somehow, out of tragedy can also come beauty, beauty brought
on by the power of community.
Companies that have manufactured hats for over 100 years are producing
masks for hospitals. Manufacturers that have built cars are beginning to
produce ventilators for helping victims of the COVID virus. Plants they have
designed electronics are using their 3-D printers to provide protective
shields for varying purposes.
Community… Individuals coming together for the benefit of the whole…
groups pulling skills, abilities, and resources to help on behalf of all.
Community reaching past -isms and beyond their previous limits to take a
shot at making a difference in tough times. Human beings being human and
experiencing life together, looking to re-establish community.