“What I saw now was the community imperfect and irresolute but held together by the frayed and always fraying, incomplete and yet ever-holding bonds of the various sorts of affection. There had maybe never been anybody who had not been loved by somebody, […]. It was a community always disappointed in itself, disappointed in its members, always trying to contain it divisions and gentle its meanness, always failing and yet always preserving a sort of will toward goodwill. I knew that, in the midst of all the ignorance and error, this was a membership; it was the membership of Port William and of no other place on earth.”
Jayber Crow from Wendell Berry’s book of the same name.
Jayber Crow was an orphan, a man who came of age in the Great Depression, and lived through the ups and downs, the wars, and the technological “advances” that came with the Twentieth Century. In his life, he experienced the love of a family and the loss of that family – multiple times. He came to appreciate the importance of place and how ultimately the place shapes the person. He experienced dysfunctional institutions, in the form of the orphanage where he was force to spend much of his childhood, and later the seminary where he studied the bible and tried to follow his calling to learn that he was not called to be a preacher in the typical sense, but rather a man of the people – or at least a man called to cut the peoples hair.
And while he cut their hair, he learned to love them, and to hate them, but whether he hated them or loved them – he respected them. In his life and through the people who came in and out of his life, he learned what was important was to simply interact with the other life on which he inter-depended on. For that is what community is really about – a place where we learn to be who we are called to be, a place that pushes us and pulls us, a place of happiness and sadness, and a place of gifts given and gifts retrieved. Community is what drew Jayber to Port William, the fictional town on the banks of a river in Kentucky, and the lack of it is what drove him away from it. The twists and turns of community bring heaven and hell to life on earth and remind us that it is not God who creates this heaven or hell, but ourselves.
Through it all, we either accept our place in the larger community of life – the ecosystem that we depend on – or we struggle on with the foolish belief that our technology, our religion, our economy, or our power to control will allow us to go beyond the realities of what it means to be human. Through acceptance we either become part of that community, or we reject it and destroy it – and ourselves.