The True Meaning of Community

One crisp December night twenty years ago, from my outside deck and through sliding glass doors, I watched my two-year-old daughter wander the unsupervised living room, dining room and kitchen of our tri-level townhouse. Her confused expression asked, “Why isn’t Mommy coming inside?”

I wasn’t coming inside because she’d mistakenly locked me out on a second story deck with no access to the ground. For ten minutes, I yelled for help. Not one person heard my cries.

Her puzzled expression switched. I could see the wheels of thought spin as she went over to the cords of the vertical shades. Slowly they closed, taking away any ability to keep a motherly eye on her. I pounded on the glass like a mad woman until she opened them, her expression more confused than before.

A moment later, she disappeared into the kitchen and returned dragging a chair up to the closet door. Climbing up onto it, as if she were trying to reach something inside, she kept glancing in my direction, almost begging me to come inside to make her get down. Boy did I yell. After a minute, she climbed off the chair, wandered into the middle of the living room then curled into a ball on the floor and cried.

That moment still rips me apart.

A neighbor finally opened her door to say goodbye to a guest. Within seconds she’d thrown me a coat, cordless phone and alerted the entire complex. Cell phones didn’t exist, but I called my husband’s office, fifty minutes away, and learned he’d already left.

The neighbors gathered on the ground below. Some stayed to offer me words of encouragement while the others tried to find a way to break into my well-secured home. The only thing holding me together for the next half hour, until I finally heard the squeal of my husband’s car brakes, was the support of my condo community. The ordeal ended with lots of tears (mostly mine) and, thankfully, no injuries to my daughter.

A week ago, I’d started to write a blog post about that night. Every December something kicks off a haunting reminder of my short ordeal. Like everyone else in the country, though, a week ago my world stalled as I watched the events unfold at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I live in Bethel, next door neighbor to Newtown, Connecticut where you’ll find the small village of Sandy Hook. The towns around here are linked by thin threads; sports, church, dance classes. Even on my own street, two neighbors have ties to victims of the tragedy.

Five days after the horrible events at the school, I assumed things had quieted down in the small town so my family brought flowers to the memorial at the firehouse used as a staging area during the crisis. Despite pouring rain and the passage of several days since the tragedy, crowds still filled the narrow streets. They added more candles, notes and other mementos to memorials that started at the highway exit and continued all the way into the village. They prayed. They respectfully read notes left by loved ones. License plates showed people came from states far away from Connecticut.

As I left Sandy Hook, it hit me how the community of people who care about those twenty precious children and their families plus the brave adults who tried to protect them continues to grow. There are no true borders to define where community starts and ends.

Many days the news makes me lose faith in mankind, yet the outpouring of support for Sandy Hook reminds me of all that is still good in our world. The large extended community surrounding Sandy Hook, in a way, is doing what my neighbors did on that cold winter night, just on a larger scale.

Have you ever been thankful for the random kind act of a stranger or friend? Please feel free to share any thoughts, including those about the kindness you’ve seen this past week.

One of the many memorials at Sandy Hook.

One of the many memorials at Sandy Hook.

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12 responses to “The True Meaning of Community

  1. We have five grandchildren living with us now. Our goal is to keep the safe and bring some happiness to their lives. Thanks for sharing your experience as we struggle to make sense of what happened in Sandy Hook.

  2. Wonderful post, Sharon. I do believe good people out number bad people by millions. The problem is the bad get the attention and they usually do something so horror filled it stays with us. Small acts of kindness which I see everyday and try to help people when I can, like most of us do, are done anonymously without the need for attention. Have a wonderful Christmas.

    • Hi Debbie,
      The bad does get the attention. In this recent tragedy, I’m happy to see the media focus on the lost lives more than the guy who did it. Thanks for posting. You have a wonderful Christmas, too!
      Sharon

  3. I, too, am so sick of watching the news because it is almost 100% depressing. However, a story like yours with your neighbors and the outpouring of sympathy for Sandy Hook helps me to continue to believe in the goodness of humankind.
    Patti

  4. While I still am a little numbed that this could happen. It is really hopeful to see the outpouring of support and love from people around the country and world. It was like after the nasty election and hard financial times, a tragedy was the last thing America could take, but out of the horrendous act, a beam of light has emerged and people are working to make the world right again.

    Thanks for your wonderful post!

    • Hi Kristi,
      You’re so right about the election putting strain on all of us. Sadly, sometimes tragedy pulls us together and reminds us that — no matter how we vote — we’re still all Americans and care about our fellow citizens.
      Thanks so much for sharing!
      Sharon

  5. When we hold out a hand, help someone in the grocery store, listen to a stranger reach out for a human voice, we all share a little human kindness. When events like Columbine and Newtown and so many other shatter our calm, we need to remember how powerful a smile is. We watch over our neighbors a little more, think about our distant families a little more, and hold our close families a little tighter. And may these feelings last long after the last candle is burned out at various memorials. Peace to all.

  6. A wonderful post Sharon. It really helped me put Sandy Hook into a better perspective. I avoided all news after it happened because it was so very upsetting. Your post has helped. Thank you.

    • Hi Mary,
      I’m so happy it helped. It was only after five days I could bring myself to go there, but paying my respects to the victims helped me come to terms with such a tragedy. Mary, thanks for sharing.
      Sharon

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