It takes a community –

ImageIt takes a community.

That’s the purpose of this blog – to remind us that it takes a community to hold hope, to heal, to honor.  It takes all of us.  And it takes all of us, in community.

As long as I’ve been an adult I’ve been reminded, again and again, of how individualistic Western society is. Surely, individualism is the seed of entrepreneurship.  Each one of us  has gifts, talents, smarts that we cannot contain within ourselves.  Our talents are necessary for the whole community to flourish.  When we allow our individualism to isolate us, to deprive us of the creative ideas of others, to turn us into combative souls, vying for space and resources and goods, then we have allowed individualism to destroy us.

As the leader of a community for many years, I learned what community can give.  Community breaks isolation.  Community is a place where others know your name.  Community is the place where you are asked:  “how are you?” and the question is for real.  Community is the place where folks are genuinely concerned for “the other.”  Community is the place where transitions – death, loss, change – are honored.  Community is the place where it is safe to come when you are lonely.  The people in community are the ones you call when you are sick and need a ride, or when you have a question to ask about some practical matter.  Community is the place where an idea may arise that you didn’t have – an idea that solves your problem.

It takes a community to break down the barriers of individualism, those high walls we have so often built around ourselves.  I expect that there is a “feel” to community – a “feel” of safety, of boundaries, of being connected, a feel of being solid.  That “feel” comes from the presence of other people, other people who look out for you – just as you look out for them.

Sometimes, a neighborhood is a community.  A neighborhood where others know what’s going on, a place where folks come out from their homes onto the street when something happens.  A place where people know who lives here and who doesn’t.  A neighborhood can be the place where the owners of the shops are also part of the network of relationships.

It takes a community.  If you are isolated today, then I invite you to start – NOW! – to look for a community.  Find a place where others have your interests.  Find a place where you meet like-minded people.  Find a place where people are having fun.  Find a place where someone thinks to ask your name, to extend a hand.  Next time, you can be that person for someone else.

It takes a community to help us survive on this great, huge, mysterious planet.  It takes a community to make us whole.


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Share resources

ImageYesterday I followed another car for about a mile, stopping at stop lights long enough for the logo in block print on the trunk to register with me:  “Wheels when you need them.”  City-cars are vehicles you can rent for a few hours or a day, only when needed.  In some cities, parking is almost impossible for residents, in San Francisco, for example.  Car-sharing of any sort is needed, to be sure.

A long time ago, an acquaintance mentioned his idea that tools and other implements could be shared, from neighbor to neighbor.  For example, let’s say you need a lawn mower.  Maybe one person on your block owns a lawn mower, so you use it when you need it, then return the lawn mower in the condition you received it.  Why, my acquaintance asked, did every house on the street need a lawn mower, or a rake, or a bush trimmer?  Why, indeed?

A close friend of mine “rents” her car to a friend one day a week.  He has a set of keys, arrives at her house before she leaves for work on the regular day, and uses the car for the day to do errands, to take care of business he can’t make happen easily without a car.  No, he doesn’t need a car all the time.  No, it’s not a problem for my friend to walk to work on the day her car is otherwise in use.  She gets to enjoy the mile walk down an interesting street to her office.  At the end of the day, her friend fills the tank with gas and returns the car to its usual place in the driveway.  Often, the two don’t see each other for weeks at a time.

Share resources.  Such a simple idea.  Share resources.  Something we have not been accustomed to doing, in our consumer-driven, “each person for him/her self” culture.  Why not share the resources we can?  Deciding how to share resources can be a community decision.  Why not have a few folks from the neighborhood over for a cup of tea one evening to share some ideas.  “How can we share resources, the resources we already have?”  In community, in a group, our ideas build on the ideas of others, and new ideas arise.  This is how group-think works! 

Maybe you’ve seen pictures or even a movie that portrayed “barn-raising.”  Sometimes in the U.K. the day-long event was called a “raising bee.”  On a given day, the community came together to build a barn – an essential for rural life, for animals and crops – to use the resources of the whole community.  This custom still takes place in Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities in parts of the U.S.  In depictions of “barn raisings” I have seen, the men work all day, “raising the barn,” while the women and children buzz around below, the women lifting colorful cloths from baskets filled with abundant food.  All day, the men take time from their work to eat the wonderful food.  At the end of the day, musicians magically appear to make music, and the worn-out workers, men and women, find second wind to dance into the night.  That’s community.  That’s sharing resources.

Sometimes it seems that we are people who have lost our creativity, as if we are marching along, all to the same, droning drummer.  To share resources will require some creative thinking on our parts.  We’ll have to begin to envision our resources and their use differently.

We’ll have to ask one another for help.


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Boston, MA is getting ready for the Boston Marathon, one year after the Boston Marathon bombings that shook the city. Folks in Boston are remembering the surreal hours after the bombing when victims were taken to hospitals, shocked citizens and visitors ran for shelter, freeways and streets became silent, and police scouted the city, looking for the perpetrator/perpetrators. Since that day, people all over the country have watched news clips about the survivors who have courageously recovered to walk again, to live their lives again. In the neighborhood that was home to the man who planned the bombings, people who walked past his home without knowing cannot forget that day, when the city of Boston went on “lock-down” to spare any more victims.

As the people of Boston remember that day, and as another Boston Marathon approaches, the media has interviewed, again and again, people who from all over Boston who look forward to this year’s marathon as a way to “come back” from the horror of last year.

One thing is clear from that day in 2013: the connections of first responders, of medical folks, of the community, of the police, of hospitals, allowed victims to be cared for as quickly as possible, all over the city. Everyone worked together. The City of Boston is a testament to the power of people in community who work together, train together, plan together, connect together to make sure that what is needed is provided.

Every day in the cities there are reasons for people to connect to one another. The connections we make are important to our daily lives, and they are, in a very real way, important to our survival. The power of connection is so basic to our survival that we may forget how important it is. But the people of Boston, MA now know how important it is.

Grief is a way of connecting. In our grief, we connect to one another as human beings, whoever we are, no matter how lonely, no matter how afraid. In a way, grief is the great “leveler” of human existence, even in these times when cultural differences, the class divide, and unresolved racial tensions cloud our ability to connect. We are human beings. Human beings grieve. In our grief, we are one.

So we honor the good people of Boston who worked together to save one another on that sad, sad, sad day in 2013. We honor their connections, which moved them to respond to one another quickly, and we honor their grief, which is ours.

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give generously, receive generously…

This is one of life’s great secrets – and I’m going to share it with you, today!

To receive generosity from others, all you have to do is to give generously.  That’s it.  That’s the secret, and it truly is one of the great secrets of life.  The secret is yours to share now, too.

The secret of generosity is something that is needed by our communities, right now.  And you can begin, right now.

This morning at 8:05 AM the door bell rang.  My husband and I were expecting a rep from an alarm company, so we were up early, just in case.  Sure enough, the rep arrived at the appointed hour!  I heard my husband ask the name of the young man who was going to set up a new system for us.  I heard them exchange names.  Later, I heard my husband ask the young man for the name of his supervisor.  He wanted to call to let the company know what good and careful service we had received.  A short time later, we decided against the service, and the company rep packed up the boxes we’d had in our front hall for a couple of weeks.  Then he left.

As soon as he left, I heard my husband dialing the number of the supervisor.  He left a message, mentioning the name of the young man who’d come to our place, and giving a positive report.  My husband didn’t need to do that, but he did.  I like that about him.  He’s a generous guy.

He told me that he’s been learning that when you give generously, it comes back to you.  But he did it just because it’s a simple thing and it feels good to be generous.  Isn’t that enough?

I had a lot of energy this morning so I started to go through my closet, to finally take out some things I’ve been thinking about for awhile.  I’m in the mood to get rid of having so many “things,” lately.  I took 3 large paper bags filled with my stuff out to the car and drove directly to the American Cancer Society store in the neighborhood, where I parked my car at the curb and emptied my car of the bags full of stuff.  I had a couple of loads, and I waited for a moment to get a receipt.  When I came back out the door and onto the street, a meter attendant from the city was idling right next to my car, eyeing it up.  I stopped.  I looked at him.  “You’re giving me a ticket?” I asked.  “yes,” he nodded.  “I was stopped here to donate,” I said.  He got out of his car and I explained.  “You were donating?” he asked.  “Yes.”

He let me go without a ticket!

As I drove away, I was thinking about how magical and mysterious life can be.  It all depends on our focus.  My husband’s generosity seemed to have mysteriously rubbed off on others.  It is a sunny beautiful day, and as I drove away, I was taken with the simple kindness of the ticket-giver. 

We all can be generous to those we know well and love.  That’s easy, well… easier…!  But generosity just for the sake of generosity is another thing.  It’s a kind of magic.


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A warm place to come out of the cold…

It’s a cold, rainy night tonight in northern California.  For those who live in the Midwest or East, it’s hard to believe that it’s a cold, rainy night tonight in northern California, but it is.

What communities need now is places for folks to come out of the cold.  In Oakland, there are never enough shelters.  When someone asks for help – and really wants help to stay out of the cold – it’s hard to know where to send them.

Sometimes, of course, people don’t really want help – at least not the kind of help that can get them back on their feet.  It’s true – sometimes folks don’t really want help.  They want a hand-out, just enough money to buy a hot hamburger at McDonald’s, or maybe to buy a bottle of wine at a cheap liquor store.  All that is true.  That’s all some folks want.  As for you and me, we don’t know why that’s all someone wants, or what got them to that place.  It’s just the way it is.

And sometimes people really want help.  Sometimes people really want just the kind of help that can get them back into a warm place, with a job, a safe place to spend the night, and maybe even a friend or two.


How do we get them from the place they come from on this cold and rainy night to the place where they are connected in community?  How, indeed?

That’s what communities are for, but we’ve lost our way.  We’re more into judging people for things we can’t really know, as if they choose in some conscious way to be on the streets on a night like this one.  We have truly all lost our way.  Not just the folks out in the cold, but you and me, because we’re part of the community, too, and we’ve forgotten that people have banded together just so they don’t have to live this often difficult life on their own.

We’ve lost our way when people are on the streets, on a cold and rainy night in northern California, and no help is on the way.


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What’s Going On

What’s Happenin’
Peggy Trojan

Selma Makkela
printed all the news fit to print.
The Hemmilas had a boy,
Erickson’s cow was hit by lightening,
The Polks motored to Chicago
for their grandson’s graduation.
Nothing to cause you anger
or “take to bed worry.”
When you saw Willard
at the feed store, you could ask how
Mildred’s broken leg was coming along,
send an anniversary card
to the Mattsens,
keep an eye out for
Johnson’s lost calico cat.
The news connected you
to community,
safe in the knowledge
you were informed enough
to know just what
was going on.
Peggy Trojan retired from teaching English to the north woods of Wisconsin. 
She enjoys quilting, gardening, picking berries, and writing poetry.  She is a
member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.
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Take a look out the window!

A few weeks ago I watched an online video about a woman who, from her front window, waved to the high school students who walked past her house day after day, morning and afternoon.  Because they were accustomed to her being at the window, the young people waved back.  After years of this interchange, the students invited their friend – a woman in her 90’s! – to their school to honor her.

Take a look out the window! 

In some neighborhoods in most cities, people are afraid to look out their windows.  That’s hard for me to imagine, and maybe it is for you, too.  But it’s true.  Folks are afraid to look out their windows because they might be seen by the crack dealer who walks the street, the crack dealer who carries a gun.  Folks are afraid to look out their windows because they are afraid to be called as witnesses to the crime that is living in the streets.

That can happen to any of us.  Unless we take a few moments today to look out our windows, to see what is happening on the street, to witness who is passing by, or to see who is missing today, we’ll lose control of our communities.

Over the past several months, students from a nearby high school have taken to climbing up the hill from the main drag that runs through this part of the city, to walking across the quiet street that leads to a cul de sac, and to sitting on the wall that marks the edge of my yard.  I took a look at the kids as I parked my car, making sure they noticed me, as I had noticed them.  When I came into the house, I went over to the window that looks out onto the wall.  There they have gathered, talking, laughing, playing music.  They look like young kids to me, and they look like kids just young enough to pay attention to adults.

That day, I opened the window and told them that this is private property.  They looked up at me – ! – and answered politely that they weren’t harming anything.  But I wanted them to know I’d noticed.  A few minutes later, I heard a loud “pop!”, and laughter.  Again I opened the window, but this time, in a firmer voice, I told them they’d have to go.  When they didn’t leave, I opened the window a third time and told them I’d call the police if they didn’t leave.

Wow!  young people can certainly run fast!  I saw about 7 or 8 kids go running back across the street and down the hill onto the sidewalk of the main drag!  Whew!  That didn’t take much!

I know I’m just another old person to those kids.  Anyone over 30 is old to them, after all!  But I also know that I’m doing my best to keep my own community safe.  I can’t do that alone.  I need other well-meaning folks to keep an eye on the street, like I do.  I need other kind people to point out clear boundaries to young people who are simply doing what young people do – hanging out together, maybe skipping afternoon classes.

When I was in junior high at Peckham (now Jackie Robinson) Junior High School in Milwaukee, I lived in an upper flat on Medford Avenue.  I walked the mile to school, morning and afternoon.  My parents rented that flat from Mrs. Schmidt, a widow who seemed very old to me at the time.  Every day when I walked up the driveway next to the house to the back door and into the narrow hallway to take the steps to the second floor, I saw Mrs. Schmidt sitting in her chair by the front room window.  Recognizing me, she waved – every single day.

I think adults weren’t as leery of young people those days as we are now.  But Mrs. Schmidt was keeping watch, in her own way, of who walked up the driveway.  One time she knocked menacingly on the window when my friend Sharon came to see me; later, my mother told Mrs. Schmidt that Sharon was the daughter of the Baptist minister, and Mrs. Schmidt didn’t try to motion her away again!

Sometimes we do what’s right, and sometimes we don’t do what’s right.  How do we ever know for sure?  At the very least, take a look out the window – today!

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…keep an eye out…

...keep an eye out...

The very last scene of “Tender Mercies,” a movie starring Robert Duvall, shows his young wife looking sadly and with concern through the screen door at her husband – who has just returned from burying his daughter – and her son, Sonny – throwing a football to one another in the field behind their house. Her eyes tell the story – with love and care, she is keeping an eye out for these two, for whom she prays nightly, thanking God for the “tender mercies” of having them in her life.

My mother would say: “keep an eye out…” for something. I knew she would keep an eye out for me when I was coming home from school, or coming back from my first date. We “keep an eye out” with love and concern for one another, for those we cherish.

Let’s “keep an eye out” in our communities. “Keep an eye out” onto your street. What is new there? Who is missing? What is changing? What looks different than yesterday?

Quantum physics has taught us that the act of observing itself changes the field. When we “keep an eye out,” we observe our communities, watching for changes, seeing what is familiar, and maybe noting what can be changed for the better. When we “keep an eye out,” there is the possibility that our observation alone can change our communities.

And so, my neighbor, I’ll keep an eye out for you. Please keep an eye out for me, too.

Together, we’ll begin to make our community safer, more “user friendly,” healthier.

Keep an eye out for me!

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“Peace begins when the hungry are fed.” – Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, founder of The Catholic Worker, publication, and service program to the poor and spiritually bereft, began The Catholic Worker movement during the Depression, when people without jobs, hungry, lined up on the streets of New York City.  Day had had a religious conversion, and she carried in her lifetime an almost Victorian sensibility that protected the ordinary human begin she had been – and continued to be – when she became a public figure.

As a 6 year old girl growing up in Oakland, Day witnessed the movement of people from San Francisco to Oakland in the days after the 1906 earthquake.  What she observed then stayed with her as she grew into a bohemian adulthood:  “people helped each other.”  Day never lost that simple and profound way of looking at the possibilities people held within themselves.  “People helped each other.”

We who live in community need to help one another.  And what human being does not live in community?  Community is a need we all have.  When we don’t have community, we are lonely, or isolated, or both.  When we don’t have community, we may have fears – who will accept me?  who can I turn to?  who can I talk to?  It is difficult to reach out of one’s loneliness and isolation, it is difficult to reach out, but it is necessary for the growth of our own humanity.

As we all know, sometimes loneliness and isolation themselves are the only things that motivate us to reach toward community.

“People helped each other.”  That is probably the one single, simple thing we need to do, we human beings that are given to one another in community.  When people are hungry, we are hungry, for the hungry ones are part of our community.  When people are restless, we are restless, because that restlessness resonates in us all.

It’s hard to understand why it is threatening to listen to the poor, to speak to the poor, to touch the poor, to notice the poor.  But it is.  Dorothy Day knew that – in her lifetime, she never lost the reputation of being radical – but she continued to believe and to live out of the value she held:  “People helped each other.”

I still believe that we are here to help one another.  Sometimes, that alone seems to be the motivation for our lives on this planet, in our communities, in our own community.  If there is to be peace, then it needs to begin with our helping one another, feeding one another, touching one another, reaching out – to and for – one another.

“Peace begins when the hungry are fed.”

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The documentary (based on the book) “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” by Jared Diamond, professor of geology and physiology at UCLA, chronicles an interdisciplinary attempt by Diamond to explain why Eurasian civilizations have survived and conquered other civilizations, while at the same time maintaining that this dominance is not due to any intellectual, moral, or genetic superiority.  Diamond began to explore this dilemma after being impacted by a conversation with Yali, a politician of New Guinea, who asked:  “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

Why do we have so much cargo?  What is the real impact of this cargo – these possessions – on our communities?

As I turned out onto the main street that parallels the the street I live on, I drove past a steel cabinet with 2 doors covered with marks in red paint.  The cabinet stood about 5-6 feet high and about 5 feet wide.  Attached to the door on the right was a paper sign that read:  “FREE.”

These days, craigslist supplies us with an endless listing of items we need, or at least want.  Some of these items are offered for free, some for a price less than retail asking.  All we have to do is to make the connection online, text or phone an agreement and method of payment:  cash?  or not? and then drive across town to pick up our latest piece of cargo.

If you happen to drive past an item left on the street, though, you don’t have to go through all those steps, and maybe you’ll find just the chair or lamp or sofa you’ve been looking for.  When he was setting up his room in the house during his college days, my nephew would arrive home from school or work on his bike, holding a new piece of cargo in one of his hands.  That’s how he decorated his space – eclectic, at best!

As I turned out onto the main street that parallels the the street I live on, I drove past a steel cabinet with 2 doors covered with marks in red paint.  I drove a mile south of my house toward the freeway.  The concrete and steel pillars that hold the freeway are painted with bright colors and community-oriented quotes in my city, swirls of color and letters, some in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr:  ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’

As I passed under the freeway, I saw cargo carefully stacked and covered with bright blue tarps for protection behind several of the pillars on which the freeway perches.  I didn’t see any folks that day, but I recognized the pillars of cargo under the pillars of the freeway as the possessions of the homeless people who live in the community, along with you and me.Their cargo is more vulnerable than ours, to be sure, although I suppose no cargo is safe from being taken as cargo by someone else.

Their lives are  vulnerable, too, in ways ours are not – vulnerable to weather, to violence, to encroachment by others who live in the spaces under the freeways, to drugs,  and to police who make it their business to break up the encampments that arise, little communities of their own, in shady and almost-hidden places in the cities.  Their lives are vulnerable to what it means to sleep on the ground under the shaking freeway, to illnesses that don’t go away and won’t go away, even with treatment, when home is a place barely out of traffic.

I don’t know why we need this cargo, but apparently we do.  We can’t imagine life without it.  We’re dependent on it, to be sure.  We’re so dependent on cargo that even when we have nothing, we have cargo, and we need a place to store it, to keep it from getting wet.

When I turned into my street from the main street an hour later, the steel cabinet was gone.



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