Our peer group … our pals … the people who make us feel loved: Our definitions of “community” are as personal as our fingerprints and myriad as the stars. But one thing is certain. Against the backdrop of the recent pandemic, it’s been hard work to preserve those ties that bind.
Not surprisingly, the Judson community has proved itself up to the challenge, facing obstacles with wisdom and persistence and shoring up the bonds of friendship when they threatened to fray.
From masks and social distancing to quarantine and isolation, the challenges to our sense of community came from many directions. What was once routine – a yoga class, a cocktail party – became unthinkable. What had been easy – conversations at the mailbox, impromptu gatherings – became impossible. If, as mental health professionals assure us, community provides a buffer against stress and helps us cope in times of trouble, no wonder 2020 left us feeling a little frazzled.
Social interactions are, after all, a basic human need, just as essential to our wellbeing as food or sleep. Important qualities of life, like motivation, health, and happiness, all seem to depend on a sense of belonging. “Indeed, feeling insufficiently connected to others is associated with profound and lasting negative consequences on physical and mental health, even leading to increased mortality,” states a 2020 study.
But along the way to 2021, something remarkable happened. Call it inner strength, natural resilience, or simply the innate human capacity to make the best out of a bad situation; but around the world, social scientists report, many communities actually have grown stronger, with increased philanthropy, volunteerism, and just plain neighborliness.
Likewise, members of the Judson communities have discovered new ways of being – ways that helped them not just maintain, but actually enhance, their social connections. With fitness classes cancelled, they went on socially distanced walks. When educational forums were suspended, they learned to learn by Zoom. In place of happy hours, weekly “hallway hollers,” kept them connected to their neighbors. When masks covered their mouths, they learned to smile with their eyes.
This summer, as vaccinations are widely available and restrictions on gatherings have eased, our sense of normality is returning. We are enjoying the return of water aerobics, book club meetings, and dining with friends; we are making plans for travel and reuniting with family; we are rediscovering the joys of spontaneous conversations. And yet – more than how to Zoom, Skype or FaceTime – there are some lessons from the pandemic that we should not overlook.
If we emerge from this challenge with an increased appreciation of our family, friends, and fellows; if we can commit to making the most of every opportunity to meaningfully connect; if we recall that we are resilient, creative, and stronger than we realized – then not only will we have regained our concept of “community,” we just might have redefined what it means to be alive.