When I think of community I am reminded of those big cheesy quilts that hang in libraries, town halls and council offices. With pieces of fabric cut into various shapes representing the famous landmarks of the town. Smiley faces of children waving from playgrounds. Buses winding up and down the thin strips of grey material. Cotton bud clouds, rippling streams, parks with cheery swing sets.
It’s a picture of happiness, warmth and safety.
A wonderful reminder of what it looks like when we do this thing right.
This mish-mash of colour, texture and patterns requires an experienced hand to sew it all together. Because traditionally, quilts are made in small squares, then these individual pieces are slotted together and sewn to create one masterpiece.
Each person works on their square, stitching themself into it.
Some sew tight, neat little stitches, bound up like the tension they hold in their shoulders. Some sew large, loose stitches. Looping carelessly, lighter than a feather.
And somehow these mismatching segments have to pair up at the ends and complete the square pattern.
Community is a funny thing. This group of imperfect people getting together and attempting to create something beautiful and worth celebrating.
At times it can feel like more of a shambles than a beautiful quilt.
The strain of different stories and mismatching beliefs creating gathers and tucks instead of smooth seams.
This world is full of messy, broken people, desperately trying to fit in. More than anything we just want to belong. We just want people to love and accept us.
But more often than not, I feel like I don’t fit in.
I often feel embarrassed that I cannot hold myself together. I frequently assume I’m the only one who is coming apart at the seams. Perhaps I am, or it may be that I’m the only one who’s being honest.
Is it really true that you feel fine every time someone asks you how you are doing? Do you really have nothing that you are afraid of? Nothing you are longing for? Nothing that rattles you or causes you to lose sleep at night?
Am I really the only one who feels like a mess?
The truth is that we think we need to have it all together. We need to don these masks and keep our worries to ourselves so as not to burden the rest of the world with our problems.
We think we are the only ones who are struggling. We believe it’s our responsibility to gather up these crumbly bits of our lives and carry them all on our own. This is our cross to bear and we clutch it tightly.
We’re afraid that if we let others see our broken pieces they’ll be overwhelmed or judgmental. Or that they will reject us and our cumbersome baggage.
But I’m so tired of living this way.
I hate feeling like I’m the only one whose cheese is always falling off of their cracker.
I hate being the only one who gives their whole heart in every conversation.
I’m craving authenticity like oxygen. I thirst for honesty like a cool drink of water. I’m desperately hungry for a taste of realness.
Give me more of your imperfections, your mistakes and your shortcomings. I need to breathe again.
Can’t you see that these are the things that make us human? Don’t you know that these are the threads that connect us to one another?
This world has become far too scripted, airbrushed and filtered, it’s hard to tell what’s real anymore. We put up walls and we get defensive. We keep each other at arm’s length and avoid deeper conversations. We beat around bushes and we stick to polite small talk.
This is not real love. This is not real community.
We need to be all in.
Giving everything regardless of what we get in return. We need to be there to cheer for one another in the high points. We need to be a shoulder to cry on in the low points. We need to pray for, fight for and root for one another.
Because what I do know is this…I can’t get enough of people who let me see them fully. I’m like a moth drawn to a flame. This kind of honesty is irresistible.
And what I’ve noticed is something beautiful happens as we co-exist. As we rub up alongside one another we begin to adopt pieces of everyone around us. A phrase from one person, a gesture from another.
Rather than those separate quilt squares stitched together, we become like this beautiful tapestry. We are interwoven. Threaded through each other. We become so much a part of one another’s stories that it’s hard to tell where one person starts and another ends.
That’s the vision I have for my community. Tightly bound, bright and colourful, not easily unraveled.
Creating community like this is all of our responsibility. And it takes hard work. Building trust doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience and persistence. We have to start showing up with our masks off. Make-up free. Walls down.
We have to be willing to be seen. We have to allow ourselves to be known. It’s unnerving, uncomfortable and at times painful but a thriving community cannot be matched in its’ wonder.
And it starts with you.
Open your heart, your curtains, your door. Let the light in on those cobwebbed corners of your living room. Sit face to face with the steam rising from your cups of coffee. Link fingers, hold hands, wrap your arms around them.
Suddenly, we are one.
One body, one voice, one heart.
“Courage gives us a voice and compassion gives us an ear. Without both, there is no opportunity for empathy and connection.” – Brene Brown