People get their sense of community a lot of different ways.
Sometimes you get it from being a part of a church like Cape Carteret Presbyterian Church where we are members.
When we lived and farmed in Tay Creek, a small rural community in central New Brunswick, Canada, we were bound together several ways. Many of us were farmers or had been farmers so shared experiences brought us close much like military families are drawn together. We also lived over twenty miles from town and its services so people often had to pull together especially when blizzards came to visit.
While religion had once dictated that the Protestants and Catholics live on different sides of the Tay, by the time we were living there, those animosities were gone. Being a small community far from town, when someone died, the men of the community were responsible for digging the grave.
It didn't matter what your religion was, you pitched in as much as you could. Considering that our village was on a pile of rocks and ground freezes instantly at minus twenty Fahrenheit, a grave was a community effort. If someone had pressing chores and could only be there a few minutes, there was no complaining about someone working harder than the others.
In fact a lot of people out of habit did whatever they could to help others in that community. I pulled many vehicles out of snowbanks over the years and cleared a lot of driveways, but I never took a dime for any of that. Mostly I was helping my close neighbors and knew that they would do the same for me in an instant.
Our farming experiences ended in 1982 when I went to work for a computer company. That career change and eventually going to work for Apple brought a lot of moves. First to Halifax, Nova Scotia, then to Columbia, MD, and finally to Roanoke, VA.
Each neighborhood was different. Columbia was a planned community organized around neighborhood schools. Unfortunately only a few of us sent our children to those schools. There were few churches like we were used to attending, and we never felt a great deal of community spirit there. We only stayed in Columbia two years.
In Roanoke, we lived on the side of a mountain. It was a new subdivision and for many years we had neighborhood parties and even went carolling together. We also faced isolation together in a few snow storms. I had an AWD vehicle which would take chains on all four wheels so I would often ferry people up and down the hill. Our children for the most part went to school together and even swam on the same swim team at a local country club. The community spirit of that neighborhood was a good experience and a reason that we stayed in Roanoke for many years.
Last year we faced Hurricane Irene together here on the Crystal Coast, there were a lot of shared sacrifices. People helped each other without question. Communities often come together in disaster, and Irene was a good example of that.
Our recent experience with a tornado spawned by Tropical Storm Beryl also showed that people are willing to step up to the plate and do more than their fair share of work. Some of our neighbors worked tirelessly to clean up the broken glass at the community pool. I took it upon myself to clean up our cul de sac. It wasn't much but it took me a while to haul the stuff off and blow it clean. It seemed like having a clean cul de sac made all the devastation on the street above it not quite so bad.
Community spirit requires working together. There is always a fine line between inconclusive and exclusive. To build a community, you need to work really hard to be inconclusive even if it makes things more difficult. Getting things done together is often a huge challenge.
I've often fallen victim to the path of it is easier to do it myself than ask someone else to do it or help. However, I found as a leader that it is far better to make sure everyone is included even if the task ends up being more difficult. You don't build community spirit without involving as many people as possible.
Still for the most part, the tornado in our neighborhood brought out the best in people. I certainly appreciate all the hard work that people have put in cleaning up the neighborhood.
Of course there is always someone who has to poke a stick in my balloon of high expectations. We had one neighbor who apparently didn't think others were getting things cleaned up quickly enough. He complained to a neighbor but acted like he was relaying the complaints of others instead of voicing his own concerns.
By twisting things around so that he put his own words in the mouths of other neighbors, he has violated that sense of community that people work so hard to create. It was a cowardly thing to do, but unfortunately it is just the thing you might expect from someone who spends more time minding the business of others than staying focused on his own world.
If you want to be a good neighbor, walk in your neighbor's shoes before you start complaining. Trust me, I have a hard time with this myself, especially considering I have one neighbor who started using a tile saw outside our bedroom window at 7 AM on Easter Sunday 2011 when we had company in the house. The same neighbor spent hours trying to level his backyard with a riding lawn mower. I finally had to restrain myself and decide that unless my family was in danger from his activities, they were none of my business.
At the same time, you become a good neighbor by helping when needed. We live in a world where family is often miles away so helping your neighbor with minor things like watering plants or picking up their mail is a good way to start a relationship.
Most of all caring about the well being of your neighbor will lead you to do the right thing. We had people in our neighborhood who were in great danger during the tornado that slid by our neighborhood.
That no one was injured is the greatest blessing that we could have. Neighbors across the street with young children had a large tree fall in their backyard. Fortunately it fell away from the house. The window that exploded in our house was only ten feet from three windows in my office where I happened to be during the storm. Had the limb hit one of my office windows, I might have ended up in the hospital.
I have no doubt that it wasn't chance that no one was injured. It also wasn't chance that the first call that we got after the storm was a fellow elder in our church. She was checking to see if we were okay. Not long after that I got an email from our new pastor. Our good friends from farther up in the neighborhood walked down to check on us within minutes of the storm. We got a number of calls and notes from people from as far away as Canada. It is reassuring that that even years later, the sense of community which once held us like a security blanket still binds us to many whose lives have intersected ours.
While a lottery win might trick you into thinking you have lots of new friends, a brush with disaster can quickly show the people who really care about you and your family. As much as I might enjoy figuring how to spend money from a lottery, I know in my heart that I can count on the people who took the time to check on us after the tornado spawned by Beryl. The quick touch from those friends more than balances the damage that we received.