Editor’s Note: With Mark Reaman out of town, we thought that the topic of Molly Murfee’s column this week provided a great stand-in for Reaman’s regular column. She captures so many of the sentiments of a small-town life, including the highs and the lows. Thanks, Molly.
A small-town community is a complicated and intricate tangle of relationships, the hand-woven fibers dyed in a variety of colors, weaving themselves through and around each other, sometimes touching, sometimes knotting, sometimes arcing through the same empty space between threads without ever making contact.
People know your name, your jobs, your passions, your mode of recreation, your hang ups, your loves, your fears. It’s okay. We all have them. In this Black Sheep Tribe community we are more family than a series of people living close to each other. Bonds beyond genealogy. We choose each other.
You understand why someone was a little too drunk too early and you don’t hold it against them the next day. You let people have their bad days heavy as the black base of a thundercloud, their jagged-hot angry days, their scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs crazy days.
Yet instead of feeling like the naked guy making a speech in front of a crowd of people, you comfortably settle into your exposure flaunting yourself like a flag in a windstorm. You see each other for who you are – all raw flaws, inconsistencies and insecurities – and they just wash over you like a breeze because you know you publicly parade about in the same.
You say hi to each other at the post office, even if you pissed each other off the night before over differing opinions at the Town Council meeting, or hurt each other’s feelings after a particularly stressful week. You forgive. A lot. You let people make mistakes.
You get mad at them – sometimes really mad – and eventually you have to let it go. Too much resentment can clog up the works. You burn Grumps at a bonfire in the sacred center and cultural heart of the community, just to make sure nothing’s lingering that might get sticky later.
You face the discomfort of talking through a mutual issue and coming to resolve, working to find creative consensus, even if it makes you squirm. You speak honestly, listen compassionately. Community. Communicate. Commune.
Experiences layer on top of one another like strata of geologic bands accumulated over the epochs. You bond over the first snowfall, and the biggest, and the least. The best wildflower season, the hottest chicken dance. You’re initiated through all sorts of muddy awfully-weathered off-seasons that make you want to crawl out of your skin, navigating the North Face lift and its intimidating terrain, time and time and more time.
You serve as each other’s bosses, co-workers, counselors, teachers, students, mentors, teammates – sometimes all at once. You know not to talk business at happy hour. Neighbors in a community literally exchange cups of sugar, feed each other’s dog while on vacation, water the plants and garden.
Your temple is the wild. You love the grit and the dirt and rough-edged nature of the alleys, people and peaks. You expand, punch-drunk in the beauty, drinking deep of the requisite stillness and spaciousness. The epicenter of your soul existence is this physical place. Your duty is to love, care and revel in it. Something in common. Community.
Being in community is going to your neighbor’s benefit – like a personalized version of localized health insurance – bidding on silent auction items your friends made or gave that you don’t really need but will pay for anyway.
You are there when a community member commits suicide, gives up on fighting with diabetes, gets a divorce with both deciding to remain. You help them build their house, haul wood, eat – for whatever reason they cannot provide food for themselves. Community members listen and console and dance together.
It’s stuffing envelopes for HCCA, lovingly helping prepare the feast for Vinotok. It’s hiking a peak for someone struggling with cancer. It’s a donation of time and participation. This is the place of the potluck. The fall funeral. The wedding on the Woods Walk.
You sink your fingers deeply into the musky-loamed roots of history – proud to know the old-timer names, honoring our historians like rock stars.
You know what aspect and time of day offer the best corn snow, the lineage of businesses that have occupied a space. You know the secret town hideouts of the heirloom thornless raspberries as well as the wooded fairy-ring circles of sweet chanterelles and sifted sunlight.
These connections bring you together – your care for and mutual concern for each other and this place. You desire for the well-being of the whole. Come united.