Our communities are what carry us through any tragedy

Sometime, amidst all the noise and clamor of recessions, lost jobs and rancorous political fighting, we forget what’s really important. We forget those things that get us from here to there, from today to tomorrow. We forget the people and actions that make life happen with some modicum of peace and comfort.

Then something occurs to remind us that amidst the chaos, there is light and love. And it comes to us not from the politicians who claim they will make our lives better. Nor does it come from the personalities whose lives, marital turmoil and relationships fill People Magazine weekly.

The light and love comes from the neighbor who takes a moment to close your garage door when he notices you forgot or who calls to make sure you made it in the house when the moose decided to bed down in your yard while you took a walk.  It comes from the distant friend who sends you a birthday present only you and she will understand because of the years of history you share and the other friend who drives you to your eye appointment and patiently waits for two hours to give you a ride home because your eyes are too dilated to see. Our daily world is enhanced with the love that is behind a million and one kind moments given to us by those who share our lives.

These thoughts run through my mind as I watch some people very dear to me deal with multiple tragedies that have tumbled into their lives in a very short span of time, from the way too early death of their mother to the recent loss of a home in a devastating fire that also took their beloved pet to a much more tragic and personal loss that occurred immediately after. I found myself wondering how they can continue to stand after so much has fallen about them.

But this family has the good fortune to live in a small Alaskan village where nothing happens to you that doesn’t also happen to your whole community. And your whole community closes ranks around you and provides you with the strong shoulders and hearts you need to make it through today and into tomorrow. Whether it’s emergency housing or clothes or kitchenware or simply some coffee cups for your morning cup of java, within hours of losing it all you find yourself surrounded by all you need.

I find myself wondering why these same villages that can love, support and carry you through any tragedy that strikes can’t harness that power of love and compassion to make life in their villages better on a daily basis. Where does this strength to face the worse of tragedies come from and where does it go to hide in-between those tragedies?

As the debate continues about the long-term viability of our small villages in an economy that seems to make living in those villages more difficult with each passing day, I find this sense of community one of the things that would be the hardest to translate into a larger setting. I know that here in Anchorage we have distinct communities like our South Pacific Islanders who come together to carry each other over the rough times. But there is a substantive difference between that and being in a village where the entire village is that community. Whether they are your friend, nodding acquaintance or someone who normally dislikes you, when you need support they will provide it, even if tomorrow they go back to not acknowledging you when they see you in the store.

Our villages face such tremendous challenges, ranging from non-existent economies to overwhelming alcoholism, domestic violence and sexual abuse, that it is hard sometimes for me to mentally juxtapose these two radically different pictures of communities that are, in fact, one and the same.

The power of community carries us through times when we feel as though we can’t possibly get up and put one foot in front of the other. If we could harness that energy to deal with the problems destroying these villages, if we could get people to understand that these community problems are daily tragedies that can be averted if they pull together, there would be nothing our villages couldn’t overcome.