Appreciating Community

I have been working for the last several months on a long range visioning committee, reflecting on directions for the future, areas for growth, and those existing elements of our school that we most value and want to retain and support. As a learning community, one that is intentionally organized around education, growth and change, we always find it worthwhile to ask deeper questions about how we come together… with a shared sense of mission and purpose, how our aspirations inform our practice, and how we can continue to nudge things forward to encourage the ongoing evolution and unfolding of the whole that surrounds and contains us.

On a recent morning this month, I had the experience of listening to the most beautiful expressions of the meaning of community, the power and potential of the collective, during our annual “Meeting for Leaving.” While Meeting is a regular and central part of our school week, one Meeting is set aside each year as the final full gathering for those students who are graduating in June and moving on from a place that they have known for just a few years or as many as fourteen years. We spend about an hour together and allow any student who is moved to stand and share a message with the community about what is on their heart, about their experience, about what they are feeling in this particular moment. What emerges is a clear testimony to the incredible significance of this fabric that holds us all together, this collective experience that we call community, a dynamic entity created out of the space we hold together. So what was spoken this morning ? The deep appreciation for an ongoing sense of care and embrace, the gratitude for something that has felt truly precious, a thoughtful articulation of the wish that we all notice the gifts we share as a community.

Each of us already shares so many connections – all of us are already part of multiple  communities, not the least of which is the global community. We may have communities of practice, residential communities, learning communities, working communities, communities of families and friends. Each of these communities holds the possibility of giving rise to something larger than our individual selves. When I spoke to my students last week about what they felt were the most noteworthy components of a healthy, flourishing community, they quickly developed a list: trust, security, open communication, respect and admiration, collaboration, a shared sense of effort, a shared sense of accomplishment. Each of these needs a community of some kind into which it can take form. We cannot create them alone. I was reminded how many of these fundamental elements are just as true on the global scale as they are on the very small scale of our school community.

And beyond all of these emergent qualities of the collective, there is something else, something that we cannot as easily put into words. There is a unique sense of grace that comes with unity, an ineffable notion of alignment, of entering into that place where we are carried forward both inside and out by the breath of the larger whole.  That was very present too in this last week, hovering gently between us, within us, above us and around us, calling us along, together.

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