Just a few short weeks ago, my brother and I held a wake in memory of our father, who died in September. Looking back, I am proud to say that the attendees illustrated the diversity of individuals who can make up a person’s chosen community.
We welcomed guests whose roots in the United States trace back to the American Revolution and guests who are recent immigrants. A variety of ethnicities, political persuasions and religious and other belief systems were represented in that one room. People came from different chapters of Dad’s life; for instance, Dad’s physical therapist from 2013 sat next to the husband of a former customer who shopped at my parents’ store in the 1970s. We visited with Dad’s doctor, his barber, his nurses, his financial advisor and the cleaning lady. The oldest person in the room was 91 while the youngest was just a little over a year old. We hugged a friend with Down syndrome and other friends who held doctorates. One attendee was a millionaire who shared stories about Dad with guests whose work would be classified as “blue collar.” Gay friends were there along with friends who have traditional families. Despite their differences, this eclectic group had a commonality — they cared for Dad and wanted to support our family during this difficult time. Dad would have been pleased.
Learning to Appreciate Differences
Therefore, I must admit I am disheartened by some of the reactions that have erupted on all sides of the political spectrum after this week’s election. I understand that some of the outbursts are venting the steam that built up during this discordant election cycle. However, I worry that some of the extreme reactions are rending the fabric of the collective community on which our nation is built.
Frankly, I have always tried to have a diverse group of friends. I don’t want to live in a society where I only hear the same reinforcing opinions. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become increasingly comfortable talking with people about why they believe what they do, even if their views or experiences dramatically differ from mine.
Finding Common Ground
The day after the election, I had lunch with a friend who voted for another presidential candidate. We had an honest and frank discussion about our views and beliefs about this election cycle. We also talked about how many people in this country no longer are comfortable with anything (or anyone) that is different. We agreed that social media provides people with an echo chamber that only parrots back an often narrow viewpoint with little to no room for others with different viewpoints. We left that lunch having a better understanding of our differences as well as a realization of how much we actually have in common. We also left that lunch with a stronger friendship.
In the aftermath of Dad’s death, I know that I want and need to actively strengthen my “chosen family” as well as maintain ties with my biological family. Therefore, I increasingly am contemplating the concept of community. I plan to address this topic in future I Start Wondering posts – and I hope that you too will begin to think deeply about what community means to you.