Down here in the deep South, we tend to think we do community really well. Hence the phrase “Southern hospitality” and such.
I find community in the cyber world, too. That may sound impersonal if you haven’t experienced it, but over the past year, as I reignited my blog, I found an immense amount of encouragement and support from other bloggers and from folks who are just generally engaged in the same online “communities” that I am.
I’m also not sure that I can explain what community is, except in terms of mall-walkers and casseroles.
When I was growing up, my folks used to be a part of a group of “mall walkers”. These people would convene at our local mall in the mornings before the stores opened and, you guessed it, walk the mall. This didn’t concern me during the school year, but during the summer months, I was often dragged along for this endeavor. Also, Dad got out of it during the week by heading off to work, but sometimes on Saturdays he had to go too.
Purportedly, this group of mainly seniorish citizens did this to have a level place to exercise that wasn’t exposed to the elements. They also, however, generally followed all these laps up and down the length of the mall with a trip over to the Hardee’s next door.
It wasn’t really about the walking. Or the biscuits. It was a gathering of people who enjoyed each other’s company. Even I have some funny memories from those days. One day, my mom mischievously filled her empty paper bag with air, snuck up behind a friend, and gave it a pop. The friend was surprised. Apparently the off-duty FBI agent in the bunch was more surprised because he jumped to his feet, brandishing his gun.
Back then, it was the most embarrassing thing ever, to be seen mall-walking with your mom and her old friends. Now I think I’d kinda like it. Think about it. Exercise while talking with friends. Minus the scary gym equipment and the professional and intimidating workouters. The introvert in me says that doesn’t sound so bad.
I’m going to let you in on a Southerner secret. This is serious. This is a big part of why we pride ourselves on community, on taking care of folks in our midst. It’s simple, yet universal, and it works every time.
Whenever something has happened, and you aren’t sure how to respond or what to do for the person…casseroles.
Someone has died…casseroles.
Someone had a baby…casseroles.
Someone is sick….casseroles.
The most famous of the casseroles is without a doubt the death casserole. These will appear en masse around the time of a funeral, usually immediately following the funeral. I have unwittingly gotten myself on a “bereavement” committee at church. For some reason, I’m always asked to bring a salad. My death casseroles must not be cutting the mustard.
However, in my experience, the best tasting casserole is the baby casserole. Maybe it’s because breastfeeding left me so hungry all the time.
Then there are some that aren’t seen very much, but probably should be. The divorce casserole. The job loss casserole. The foreclosure casserole.
It’s easy to respond when it’s comfortable, but the true test of community lies in the uncomfortable.
Litmus test for Community: If there’s no Hallmark card for the situation, it’s really, really important to be there. It matters less HOW you respond than that you DO. Deafening silence makes the pain worse.
And if you are totally at a loss and don’t know what to say…casseroles. And maybe a bottle of wine.