I’m writing this a day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. My country remembers this great man as a Civil Rights leader, a compassionate man, a minister, an agitator who became the face of a movement we still need today. We remember him with a holiday, celebrating his birthday with community events and community service, outreach to make our corner of the world just a little better.
Very fitting. Community outreach was the very thing we love Dr. King for, and yet it’s not exactly the reason we remember him.
Community…a seemingly elusive concept that grows more distant every year. We can chat with perfect strangers on Facebook, but we don’t even know our neighbor’s names. We can tell you all about our ‘Facebook friends’ and their kids, what they’ve done, their accomplishments, vacations, parties…but we don’t know if the elderly people down the road have heat this winter or if the new mother two houses away gets enough food.
We don’t care that our school systems are broken, we don’t care that states now have the wherewithal to pronounce healthcare as unnecessary because it ‘doesn’t prevent enough illness’, we only just feel bad for those people swept up in hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, fires and mudslides, and we don’t care that homeless men, women and children may be freezing to death on the streets or that some are starving to death in Puerto Rico.
Except, we do. On a deep and profound level, we absolutely care, and it’s just awful. These things that are happening are just awful…But it’s overwhelming, and what can we do? That’s what we have governments for…
But we see where that got us. We need to start helping ourselves, too. We need to stop relying on some outside force that obviously stopped caring about its people a long time ago and start caring for ourselves…and our neighbors.
So this year, let’s honor the memories of all the great men and women who have gone before, who have managed to make their corner of the world just a little better—whether they be celebrated or humble, whether we know of their accomplishments or if they just touched a handful of people—let us celebrate them by bring back a sense of community.
There are things you can do that don’t take much time or money. Help somebody with their bags, shovel the snow off their sidewalk, mow their grass. Give to food banks and homeless shelters. Donate pens and pencils to schools.
Be nice to others.
Part of our problem here, in this country, is that there is always someone ‘different’. Different is code for ‘not my kind of person’ right?
I used to live in Africa, where there is a very strong sense of community. That’s not my point, though. Having lived overseas for a number of years, I’d reached a place where I could Spot The Americans. I knew them right off—because they moved a certain way, owned whatever space they currently occupied a certain way. There was some innate arrogance/confidence/aggression in their very demeanor—and I don’t mean that in a bad way. They weren’t necessarily rude, just…different from everyone else.
Americans are encouraged to say they’re Canadians when they travel overseas. I don’t know why, but I can tell you it doesn’t work. You do something like that, and whoever you’re talking to will just think you’re a liar. Even if they go along with it. You’re American, and it’s telling in every breath you take.
I wish I could hold up a mirror and show my countrymen how very similar we are. We are unlike everyone else, and yet we descend from everyone else. We’re so busy trying to define our differences that we keep overlooking our similarities, and that prevents us from developing our sense of community into the greatness that so many are clamoring for.
We are one nation. A nation is a people. We are one people. One community.
Let’s start acting like it.