A few times, I've written here about life in this small community. About the opportunities and limitations of country life. The boundaries of economies on an island. About what the advantages and drawbacks of knowing a little bit about hundreds of people, and a lot more about many of them, might be. What being in a community is really like for me.
The positives are endless. We are surrounded by folks of all ages, getting the advantages of grandparents, and kids, and babies, and teenagers, regardless of our own age, the proximity and configuration of our own families. We have a never-ending well of knowledge and inspiration to tap into. From our friends and neighbors we can learn how to milk a cow, how to fix a bike, how spin wool, how to speak French, how to contra-dance, how to play the mbira…and if we can't learn the skills we need, we can likely find someone to help us complete any task at hand. There are many helping hands, well-wishers, teachers, healers, elders, advice-givers. We are surrounded by talented and kind people.
There's some ancient sense of belonging, not just to a family, but to a group of people. There are endless webs of connections between different people, invisible lines marking past and current relationships.
And the negatives? Last few days, I've thought a lot about this: The more people you know, the more likely it is that something terrible touches you indirectly. There's a lot more loss and pain.
It took me a while to understand this. How the odds of bad things happening to someone you know, multiply the more people you know. That knowing and loving many people much older than you, also means that you will likely help bury them someday. That befriending a couple may one day make you a privy to their heartbreak. That knowing a little child from birth makes you feel responsible for their well-being, and worried for their future (and that knowing twenty of them makes it worse). The more friends you have, the more dire diagnoses you have to brace yourself against, the more financial calamities you fret about, the more likely you're to carry their bad news in the pit of your stomach.
We've had some terrible things happen here lately. They did not happen to my family, and they're not mine to talk about, but it the last few days, I've thought about this a lot. There's been a perpetual sense of "I can't believe this is happening." But it keeps on happening, illness by illness, fire by fire, accident by accident.
It's never going to be easy, loosing someone, however peripherally you may have known them. Whether they were your dearest friend, or simply someone who sometimes gave you a smile and a hug at a party, there's that feeling of something being ripped open, and something else closing up tight and forever, and a new vulnerability best summed up with trite statements like "Life is fragile.".
At the same time, I feel grateful. Grateful to live somewhere where if it happens to you, you don't have to suffer through whatever it may be, alone. Where people rush to offer their help, financial assistance, food, care, their open arms, their time and space, to another person in need. Sharing grief does not lessen it, but maybe it makes it a tiny bit easier to carry on living, knowing that you're not alone, that there are tens, even hundreds of others, ready to carry a little bit of your load, whatever they can, wishing you good things, and praying for you.