This entry is a few days late, as we just got our Internet back.
I’ve just been looking at videos from the Florida Keys and reading about the devastation in the Leeward Islands. On St Maarten they have no food, water or shelter. The people have banded together to search the wreckage of supermarkets and other sources in order to gather and share what resources they might come across.
I was uncomfortable because, for about twelve hours and five minutes, we had no lights and no air conditioning. Of course we had several good flashlights and a big supply of batteries, and we had a little battery-powered fan that kept us reasonably comfortable. Essentially we lay in bed, napped, played with our cats, watched the storm on our phones, and I read a sci-fi novel on my Kindle. We snacked from the cooler. We talked. Our day was thrown off balance. We couldn’t go to work.
I’ve been thinking, though, about how easily our lives can be thrown out of balance.
We tell ourselves that we can “cope.” We’re adults. But we’re really not all that equipped to do so. For the most part, we have little or no experience with life-threatening adversity, and if we do it has usually come from other people, not our environment. Today’s anniversary of 9/11 is a good example. We all remember it, but for the majority of us the suffering was empathy or rage. We weren’t harmed, nor really much threatened physically. We were mostly pissed off.
From hurricanes and earthquakes to wars and electromagnetic pulses, plagues and climate change, our lives can be thrown into chaos in an instant. That they haven’t been yet is good fortune. It’s not because God likes us better than the folks in St Maarten. It’s not because we’re smarter, or especially loved in the international community (such as it is), or led by wise men, or blessed with a bountiful country that we took from other people. It’s because we’ve been lucky. Most of us have not been in places that were inundated by the poop from the propeller, at least not while it was happening.
We know how to shop; we don’t know how to hunt. We know how to obtain food from the market; we don’t know how to grow it. Given that it’s almost always grown hundreds or thousands of miles away, we can’t go get some in a pinch. The most dedicated survivalist or “prepper” isn’t independent. S/he still needs others: to formulate the medicines and equipment they take with them, to build the SUV that hauls it to the mountain cabin, to manufacture the guns and ammo with which they hope to protect themselves.
The bare fact of the matter is that, short of meager subsistence living, we need other people to get along. Even those prepared to take what they want or need with violence need others to provide their loot. For most of us, to one degree or another, our survival depends on one thing, called community: connection with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.
The common goals that tie us all together can be reduced down to food, shelter, safety, and the human instinct to interact with others. Lacking any of those things, human beings can sometimes exist, but they cannot thrive. The people in the Leeward Islands, in the Florida Keys, Southwest Florida, and other communities all over the world are demonstrating that. The Cajun Navy didn’t put themselves in danger because they had sworn an oath, or were going to get paid. Their motivations were/are compassion for others, a sense of community and the good feelings, self-esteem or whatever you want to call it that prompts humans to band together when in trouble in order to work for the common good. That’s community.
The same thing happens in recovery. Other people in the recovering community and fellowships (another way of saying community) help us to gain the foundations we need,to stand on in order to reach higher for the fruits of sobriety. They demonstrate the efficacy of new coping skills by their own successes, thereby giving us hope for ourselves. We come to know and trust them. We provide each other mutual support across the mountainous and swampy parts of the journey, and provide company along the way.
We get all these things from our community of recovering drunks, addicts, gamblers, overeaters, or whatever, and we pay it forward. We take on service positions in our fellowships, sponsor newcomers and folks coming back, and provide reinforcement by participating in meetings by sharing or by simply listening attentively.
We participate in fellowship after the meeting, going out with other members for a bit of fun, having a cup of coffee with a newcomer. We answer the phone at 3:00 AM when someone–even a virtual stranger–needs to talk. We call others in our programs just to say hello, so that both we and they will be comfortable enough to call when the chips are down. We support meetings that are faltering. We dig in and put a couple of bucks in the basket to pay the rent, buy supplies and help keep going the administrative structure that provides support to our nationwide and international efforts.
The recovery community is a living, breathing entity. It lives because we nourish it. Without us, it would die. And so might we.