Monday, November 16, 2009

Uncommon Community

Uncommon Community

The community to which I belong no one wants to join. Once in, no one ever can quite leave.

This community can be found on no map. It has no geographical boundaries, no common demographic characteristics, save one. It doesn't exist as a legal entity and has no formal governance structure. It pays no allegiance to any political party, Democratic or Republican. Nor is it exactly what I'd call Independent. Its members need, count on, and are there for one another much too much to tag ourselves with that or any other label.

Few members of the community have ever met or talked face-to-face, by telephone or by e-mail; yet, we know each other's names, the names of loved ones and family members, often some of the most intimate aspects of each other's lives: background that never seems to show up in the pictures we exchange.

We share a language that rises from the gut, spills from the mind, overflows from the heart, erupts from places deep inside where words have to rearrange themselves in metaphors and similes to describe what we experience.

What we experience often wants for clear-cut explanation. The science is complicated, the medicine more trial than error. We win, and lose.

We tend a garden in our community that needs no special soil for oaks or elms to grow alongside roses and orchids and other exotica, no particular measurement of yearly rainfall, no potting sheds or rakes or lawn mowers, no fertilizers save ourselves. Our garden bears the name of one who lives in the memory of every member of the community he founded, in the words he left behind when life left him. Years of words that he gave up daily, and for every season that passed that he lived, that we read, commented on, recited, memorized, remember still, because those words always come down to mean the one same thing: that above all else, life is worth living.

We list and recommend and play lots of music in our community. Classical. Rock. Country. Blues. Blues soft, Rock loud. Our tastes in tempos, rhythms, styles, and lyrics cannot be said to be catholic.

We check in each day with our Daily Muse, who does well what muses do best. Sometimes she leaves poems that break up the heart. She's partial to quotes that inspire, call us out to ourselves, ask us to be present even as loss urges us away.

We compose notes of gratitude nearly as often, to remind ourselves that Thanksgiving does not exist only on a November day, in a church on Sunday mornings, among those who memorialize us after we're gone.

We leave prayers for people whose religions are unknown to us. We light candles whose flames no one sees but He who has eyes for all things everywhere.

We outpour concern when members take time off, fail to show up, try to move on. We know how uneasy is the leaving, especially when no note is left behind.

We recommend the written Word, books of others', books sometimes only our own. More words for what we can't explain. We never lack for words even as we never get enough of them.

We allow rants, ravings, anger, and tears, frequently all at once. We talk back to each other. We talk to ourselves. We talk with one another without mouthing aloud the syllables and consonants and vowels we can only mirror when a day is done.

We break down together, bend down together, and hold out our hands to pull each other up again.

We lift. We lift as One; we lift as Community, never feeling the weight in the air of loss that hangs like a shroud in a place that makes place for us all.

We need time. We want for time.

We say too many goodbyes. We grieve on the Street of Grief even when the loss is not our own, because it is our own, because it is we in Him in whose image we are born.

We laugh. We share the greatest joys, the worst defeats. The last breaths in the last hours of the last day of life.

We talk in the tongue of science and the art of healing.

We struggle to hold on to faith when faith doesn't answer our questions. We have too many questions and not enough answers.

Mostly, we traffic in hope.

We are virtual. We are flesh and blood. We are bones and ash. We are ghost and spirit.

We are Our Cancer.


I composed this essay for this week's Blog Carnival, which requires only that participants consider the one-word prompt "community". Beginning tomorrow, others' contributions to the Community Carnival, which is sponsored by Peter Pollock, who blogs at Rediscovering the Church, and Bridget Chumbley, who blogs at Hoping to Make a Difference . . . One Word at a Time, will be available here. Thank you for hosting, Bridget.


Glynn said...

I really didn't see this one coming, Maureen --I was blindsided but in a good way. It made me think about cancer in a very different way. Great post.

Bruce said...

Very nice tribute to Leroy, yourself and all the rest of us at OC.

For those who have never fought cancer or taken care of a loved one as they either recovered, or didn't, Maureen nails it.

Michael Alioto said...

Hey Maureen,

Even though I knew the punchline, it was great to read how you saw the NPR "Our Cancer" Community. Then I read Glynn's comment and realized how it must have felt approaching it from the other end!

It is unfortunate, the dues we have to pay to get into that particular Community. One that we have no choice in its acceptance. But once there, peace, strength, camaraderie, and healing (spiritual and emotional) can be found.

Nicely said indeed!

Marcus Goodyear said...

Like Glynn, I did not see the punchline coming. But I think you've developed a wonderful definition of community that is bigger than the specific community at Our Cancer.

There is some really beautiful ideas here, Maureen.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Maureen ... very powerful post for all of us who live or have lived in this community. Thank you.

Laura said...

I have some friends who hold vigel this very moment...waiting for their son to give up his life. So gutwrenching, this community--but beautiful as well; in the giving and sharing of comfort.

You are a well-watered tree, Maureen.

M.L. Gallagher said...

Oh Maureen, I did see this one coming. I work in a community -- live and breathe it -- and while it is not cancer, it feels at time like a living death that lives in the hope we share when we share our stories.

Thank you for saying it so beautifully and poetically. Thank you for creating music for the soul.



nAncY said...

yeah, you are right... there are these communities that we become part of as we go down the road. interesting perspective. thank you.

Dianne West said...

Your words are a perfect description of that very special place we call Our Cancer. Thank you, Mo.

Janet Oberholtzer said...

Wow - powerful! Really moving!

So sorry that you need to be a part of this community - but so happy you have a community to walk with you through cancer.
Will pray for peace and strength for you.

Love this line ..
"Mostly, we traffic in hope."

katdish said...

Wow, Maureen! That literally took my breath away!

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Mo... no one could say it better, or with such feeling and so poeticly (sp?). You speak from your heart and you reflect all our thoughts and feelings. Thank God for OUR community...and thank God that you are part of us, even though you must share the grief that allows admittance.

Betty Obst

Bernadette Pabon said...

I was left in total awe! You are a great person filled wth faith. I had cancer in my stomach and a baby at the same time. It was a miracoulos time how no matter how often and how many doctors claimed the child was deformed and would not survive, He is now 23, going to De Paul University, God is Great.

My heart is with you.

Bridget Chumbley said...

Maureen, this is so beautiful and powerful!

I could feel these words:

"We need time. We want for time."

Thank you for this post.

jasonS said...

That is very powerful. Thank you.

Kevin said...

WOW! What a beautiful picture of community! Praise God that you are part of such a wonderful community.

Peter P said...

I can truthfully say I guessed what you were talking about almost immediately but that didn't change in the slightest how moving and heart-wrenching this post was.

Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece with us.

Monica Sharman said...

This is amazing. I will have to read this again and again.

Anonymous said...

Maureen, Being a part of this community has brought many blessings. None greater than knowing you as friend. You are the driving force and use boundless energy to keep it going. Just when I feel that your writing has reached its zenith, you deliver a brighter gem. This one is beautiful. Joyce H.

Joyce Hughes said...

Maureen, I struggle to find the words..... Just when I think your writing has reached its zenith, you bless us with another gem. Thanks for all that you are to all members of this community!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Mo...Laurie