As a child, I loved to read anything and everything I could get my hands on, especially stories that transported me from my seemingly ordinary life in a small southern town to adventures set against the backdrop of magical places and distant lands.
One book I especially enjoyed was called “The Search for Delicious,” and chronicled a medieval Prime Minister’s efforts to create a dictionary by compiling words and giving them meaning. The book’s protagonist is a young boy sent out into the land to try and get a definitive answer on what should appear in the volume under the word “delicious.”
As the story unfolds, we learn that everyone we encounter in the story has a little bit different opinion about what is delicious and nobody can agree on what should appear as the definition. But ultimately each person’s opinion is correct, so maybe the question isn’t quite as easy to answer as we thought.
Last year, I set out on something of a quest myself. I wasn’t seeking delicious things, although they are always welcomed on any journey, but was instead trying to find my own definition for the word ‘community.’
Growing up in a little town meant being known from a young age. My grandfather was the local butcher for 47 years and my mom often appears as a host on the town’s only television station, so it has always felt like pretty much everybody knew them and by association, me.
By the time I left home to go to college, I was ready for some anonymity. But after living in my new city for a few years, I realized anonymity is a double edged sword. While it’s nice to blend into the crowd, it can also be pretty lonely when you are surrounded by people but feel neither seen nor known by them.
I wanted to find a community of my own to get plugged into. Except I haven’t always done a very good job at this. After college, it took me awhile to find my footing. I felt like I was stuck between two places….too old to exist in the student realm I had always known but too young and inexperienced to be taken seriously in the real world.
Social media broke the ice at times, but anxieties about how I might be perceived or judged kept me from stepping out of my comfort zone, which ultimately kept me from enjoying authentic connections.
After my husband and I got married in 2015, we bought a little house in an older neighborhood and started putting down roots as best we could. I decided I wanted to really get plugged into our little corner of the world. We signed up to be block captains and participated in the neighborhood’s annual chili fest, something that felt straight out of Mayberry. I started looking for ways to volunteer, including as a mentor for girls in an after-school program at a nearby elementary school.
And all along the way, I have been lucky to form some really amazing relationships with people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.
This is the same way I feel about the Southern C, an incredible community of creative, innovative and authentic individuals who support each other and cheer each other on.
It’s taken me some time, but little by little I have stuck to my course of seeking out community and all the many ways it can be defined. Sometimes community is being there for others when they need it the most. Other times, it’s letting others be there for you.
When I remarked offhandedly to a neighbor lady that I wanted to put in a flower bed along the south side of our house, I never dreamed we’d come home one day a few weeks later and see her out there digging in the dirt. She had dug up some perennials from her own garden bed and was lovingly transplanting them into our yard.
Her husband recently passed away at age 85 and I promptly called on her with a plate of baked goods, just to let her know how sorry we were. That’s a form of community too. The following week, we went to the memorial service. In his eulogy, our neighbor’s nephew remarked about all the years of wonderful memories he had from spending time with his aunt and uncle at their little house on Palmetto Rd. My husband squeezed my hand and we both knew what the other was thinking…..this is our street too. Our little community. And maybe one day someone would feel the same fondness for us and the memories they had about us.