Monday, April 27, 2009
Tragedy and Community
A good friend of mine wrote this homily on her blog, discussing the fallout of the University of Georgia professor who on Saturday shot to death his wife and two other men. To provide a bit of needed backstory, she is a current Athens resident and an Athens native. What I couldn't help but notice while reading this compelling account was how closely tied she is emotionally to the city itself. Her first person account describes a tight-knit community in which all feel a part of something larger than themselves. It is on that note that I include below what she wrote in totality.
I sat on my front porch tonight and listened to the sounds of my neighborhood. It doesn't sound any different, but something feels changed. I sat here just a few days ago and wondered at the verdant trees and bright blue sky, grateful for the arrival of spring, and all the freshness and beauty it brings.
I can't help but ponder why. Surely the act itself is irrational. A person with any bit of rational thought would surely have to reason out doing such a thing. And yet, if one were to reason it out, how would it have come to happen that way? Surely you wouldn't do it in public, in front of your community. He was together enough to leave the children with friends who would take care of them, and yet so far gone that he'd killed their mother while they sat in the car.
I wonder what it means for me, personally. It means more than just a day of hysteria and helicopters flying overhead. I didn't know anyone involved at this theatre only a few blocks away, which means I haven't offered myself as a volunteer with the theatre community here, as I'd always planned to after college. I donated once or twice when I was doing better financially, but I rarely bothered myself enough to even attend shows. It means more security everywhere. I developed a healthy appreciation for our police force, and especially the radio operators, as I listened to them on the scanner. On a day when the force was already heavily taxed, they were dealing with a situation they hope to only have to plan for, not ever deal with. Voices were strained, but everyone on the scanner kept their cool enough to be able to act rationally as they were needed. How odd, on a day of such tragedy, to hear of dealing with loud party complaints and disorderly drunks. Apologies to my liberal nature, but it means that my feelings on gun laws have been cemented. With an armed killer in the neighborhood, it was beyond reassuring to know that should it come our way, we wouldn't be in a gun fight carrying only a knife.
For my community, it means so many things. A city budget, already stretched thin, now surely in the red. Important members of the arts community, the small but extant and active theatre
It's trust, I think. We trust our neighbors less tonight. You trust that the friendly professor with two children next door, or the single mother, or the group of rowdy but pleasant college kids, or the aging grandmother, are not the kind to go and do something of this magnitude to other members of your community. You trust that the people you see every day are just normal folks like yourselves. And maybe that's really the rub--if this was just someone like ourselves, how did they come to this point? What snapped? What changed inside their mind to make doing something like this seem actionable? That trust we have, that our neighborhood is not the sort of place where this happens, that our neighbors are incapable of this--has been eroded.
I don't know how that is fixed. I can only hope that as Athens has done before, it will find a way to turn its collective good will and caring into something that will whittle away at the shock and pain we all feel. I have no doubt that we are capable of doing so. community, gone. 3 more tragic deaths in a year that has already, in only April, seen too many. It's neighbors--that only recently when snow fell and power lines came down, came out on the porch and shared candles, food, and warmth--its neighbors who are more guarded, less trustful.
This is something I have never felt before in my own life. No matter where I live, I'm just someone who happens to take up space next to someone else who takes up space. I grew up in a suburb where we faintly knew our neighbors, and only interacted with them if there was a problem brewing involving something like unruly pets or large trees which needed to be cut down to avoid broaching someone else's property line. Aside from that, we lived very different, very isolated, very separate lives which no one questioned and no one sought to reform.
In reading this account, I envy that kind of closeness she has, especially so when it is compromised by violence and unwarranted tragedy. But, all the same, I often wonder if true community is something I could ever learn to embrace if at some point I came across it in my life. Old habits are hard to break. I'm not sure it would be easy for me to reach out to my neighbors or engage them in small talk.
Readers, have you ever experienced true community in your own lives? If so, would you mind sharing a story or two?