"A strong community helps people develop a sense of true self, for only in community can the self exercise and fulfill its nature: giving and taking, listening and speaking, being and doing. But when community unravels and we lose touch with one another, the self atrophies and we lose touch with ourselves as well." Parker Palmer
We are confused about self. Is self good or bad? Should we take care of self? Should we 'die to self?' Does a strong self mean that a person is self-ish? Why do so many people have trouble being comfortable with their own self?
Palmer suggests, and I agree, that it is not a whole and healthy self that is damaging to others, but it is an empty self. True self is life giving.
And to be healthy, one must take as well as give. One must speak as well as listen. One must be loved as much as one loves. This is the gift of true community. True community does not expect a person to be always best, always wisest, always giving, always beautiful. True community lets each person be undeniable human, sometimes under the weather, sometimes needy, sometimes unable to give. True community is safe and hospitable and full of humor about life.
I had an experience of true community this past week. The Elliott clan went to the beach for a week - 12 of us under one roof. A pretty big roof, but one roof none the less. I spent some time in thought before we went, and allowed my rumble of anxiety to rise in me, paying attention to its source. I realized that I felt anxiety about the massive task of keeping the 'ship afloat,' of making sure the meals were made and order maintained. Then I decided I would not keep the ship afloat. I would be a contributor, choose for my own wellness sometimes, and walk away from chaos rather than fixing it.
In fact, I told my daughter this. "Rachel," I said, "I know sometimes you go into your bedroom with Curtis and you say, MOM is driving me nuts!!!" She smiled. "Don't do that this time, Rachel," I said. "When I am acting controlling or nuts come and tell me, MOM! You are making me nuts." We laughed.
She didn't have to say that to me. But then, I didn't make her nuts. Sometimes when three parties were all jumbled in the kitchen vying for ingredients for three different lunch menus I went and sat on the porch with a good book. When dinner was planned and someone started to cook I went to the pool with the little girls. When the evening was late and things were getting loud and overwhelming to me, I put myself happily to bed and enjoyed hearing the laughter as I fell asleep.
We were a community of friends for those days. Everyone was accepted as they were. Sometimes one person rose to the situation and sometimes another. But I realized that the key to our harmony was freedom. Every self was allowed to be, simply as they are. Every person gave something. And every person took. Every person sometimes chose for themselves, and every person sometimes chose for the other.
There are very few situations like this, and I am glad I didn't apply my many skills of arranging and controlling to make things wonderful - and ultimately ruin them.