Who remains when the lights go out.
I recall in great detail the first time I experienced an intense sense of community outside of my family. When working at McCoy’s Action Karate. I was an awkward child and teen and never “really” fit in anywhere. Now as a 21 year old, with a 2 year old, buying her first home I finally experienced it. I had been an instructor there for a few years at that point and had developed some amazing friendships. As a housewarming gift they had come together and got a gift card so I could get my first washer and dryer. Community, saw a young family and a need and found a way to help fill it. Community is not only about needs being met, it’s the 2 hour conversations in the parking lot, crying on a shoulder, the person who brings a coffee, those who played with my boys while I taught. It was me, watching their families grow.
My second experience with community was when I first opened my own school. Students rallied around and cheered on. I recall standing on the back deck of one of those students home watching everyone in my community playing volleyball. My heart felt like it could explode seeing everyone come together.
I got to be part of people’s every day and the major milestones. I sat with them when they cried about life challenges. I celebrated Victories and unfortunately even paid respect as some passed away.
But what happens to the leader when the show is over, when the tour is cancelled, when the house lights come back on? What happens to that community, to those who the leaders and family loved. What happens to the friends you made? The ones you shared so many memories with? What happens to your children’s friends? Where do they go? Do they forget you? No one ever prepares you for that part. You think that community, those friends will last forever.
I recall the last time we all sat in a room together. The people I considered my inner circle, my community, the ones I would do anything in my power for. I finally after years found the confidence to open up, to share something I had never shared before. It was the last time I saw many of them.
Unanswered messages, ignored comments, realization that the community you had was no more. Watching as they moved on and continued to nurture the relationships you helped create, with genuine pride and joy to see… all the while your heart breaking wondering if it could have been different. I thought we would be friends & community forever.
My mind flashed back to 20 years before, a church I had been attending decided to replace the pastor. His daughter stood up and asked how… how could this be for the man that had officiated the churches weddings, funerals and been there for everyone during our best and worst days. Counseled through major life moments or just enjoy a mid week coffee. Over 20 years for some people, seeing and spending every Sunday, Wednesday and days in between with him. How could they abandon him now? I found myself now, fully understanding what she asked. How, how could they forget him so easily? How could that church or people he loved just forget him and his family? Why did it have to be all or nothing?
I recall a leader in the martial arts industry the committed suicide years ago. The details are not important in this example, but a friend who had been close to me at the time asked “why didn’t he talk to me” “ how did I not know”. The person had lost his community, his purpose, and in this case the only option he saw was to take his life.
Another close friend of mine (who also was a pastor) went through a similar change about the same time I did. The people he loved and cared on so quickly forgot when it was not longer convenient for them to do so. We shared how painful it had been and how much we had to grow during that time. Seeing the path we had invested so much into disappear in front of us. Suddenly those same people, the ones we cared for and loved, believed the worst of us. All that we had done in the past meant nothing now that we where gone.
Don’t get me wrong, when I lost it all, everything I worked for was gone, and my community….. forgot me. There where still a couple friends who stood by and checked in on me. One friend in particular, of all people had the most reason to hate me, yet she didn’t. She saw past all that had happened. Being closest to the fire she knew all the details. When I wanted to give up and thought all was lost, she was there for me, she probably saved my life.
I recently listened to an audio on Audible “Everything is F*cked” a book by Mark Manson. The title can be distracting, but this book dives deep into human behavior. It goes over our basic human need to be part of a tribe or community. It was key to helping me find peace in how things had changed, understanding my pain and how it reacted to a greater human need. My pain was not unusual or misplaced. We all have a deep need for community, to belong in a place where our personality, skill sets, and contributions matter.
Maybe you are a leader or someone who lost their community and understands this pain. Maybe as you read this you think of a friend, teacher, pastor, coach, etc., who was part of your community once that you lost track of. I have learned that our tribe may change as our life goes on, we learn this at an early age (pre school, elementary school, high school, college). A reminder, that as great as that pain may be, you can eventually find a new tribe. That tribe may not be a forever tribe, and that is ok too. We all change over time, it should not be surprising our tribes may change too.
Like the song “Closing Time” by Semisonic. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here”
Check out the book I reference here, https://amzn.to/2XcTbj8