Molly Fisk: Choosing Community

This month I’ve gone to two memorial services, both for the mothers of friends, and am just about to deliver some rose petals I’ve dried to another pal whose daughter is getting married on Sunday. Last month I went to the wedding of my ex-boyfriend’s nephew. I’m doing these things because I want to and I love the people involved, but there’s more than that going on. As I’ve driven home from each of these shindigs, I’ve thought to myself: “This is what you do when you’re part of a community.” What I  mean is: This is what I do when I’m part of a community.

The word “community” gets bandied about a lot these days, what with the economic and political collapse going on around us and people starting to imagine post-apocalyptic scenarios. What does it really mean? What does it mean to you? For me, it’s a mix of people I know and love, like friends and family; people I maybe don’t know so well but see a lot, like Margot at the grocery store and Alexis at my favorite coffee shop; and people I don’t know well and rarely see but feel connected to: my M.D. and nurse practitioner, my dentists, Rex at the car repair place, my vet. Being a hemi-semi-demi-famous poet in this county, there’s also a circle of people who know me but I don’t know them — they’re part of my community all the same. And then there are trees and birds and animals, the landscape itself, the South Yuba River.

The way I see it, all relationships bring with them a certain responsibility — part of belonging to a community is deciding for ourselves what that is. By responsibility I mean envisioning how we’ll fit in, what we’ll offer and what we’ll take, what we “owe” our community and what we don’t. People make different choices about this, and I think every choice is valid. There are hermits who grocery shop right before closing on Saturday nights, to see as few strangers as possible. They’d never be caught dead at the Fourth of July parade. There are political activists who stand on our overpass dressed in black on Thursday evenings with placards protesting the war in Iraq, contributing their political opinions. There’s the person who sits on boards of non-profits all over town and raises significant money to support them. There’s me, trying to decide how to decline the next three benefits I’m asked to read at, just because I’ve done so many and now I have to get some of my own writing done.

There are people who go to weddings and funerals and people who don’t. People who tip well when they eat out and people who don’t. Lots of opposites like this, and all gradations in between. There are hospice and library volunteers, fire-fighters, Search & Rescue. There’s the woman who configures my neighborhood association’s newsletter and collects our membership fees. We can even include the hat-wearing robber who’s hit several banks this year and remains at large. Even if he doesn’t live here, he’s choosing to be part of our community by stealing our money. And we’ll include him, in turn, by locking him into our County Jail if we catch him.

One way I support the community is to go to weddings and funerals. Weddings used to make me jealous or cynical, and funerals made me too sad. But I’ve changed. Maybe it’s my age, and a lengthening perspective. Now, something about the generations represented really moves me: there are always at least two and sometimes as many as five. Families often look like each other, which I find comforting. I can see time hold still for a second, right in front of my eyes.

Whether grocery trucks cease rumbling up 49 into the Safeway parking lot and we start eating food we grow in our own back yards or not, each of us still has only a very short time here. I think it’s worth asking outright how you want to spend yours. If the 4th of July were in October, I’d go to the parade every year, but most of the time I can’t bear the heat. I vote for tipping at least 20 percent because I used to be a waitress: I remember what it’s like to smile all night and carry dirty dishes across a hard floor.

Two lines are coming to mind from different poems as I write this. The last of Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day”: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” And the end of Kristy Nielsen’s “Poem Against Indifference”: “So, these are the people you’ll die with, these the ones you must love.

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  • Kristy Nielsen February 10, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    Thank you, Molly! I enjoyed the essay and am supremely flattered to be quoted alongside Mary Oliver.

  • hillsmom June 4, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Last Sunday 5/28 there was an article in our mostly useless paper about adapting to Independent Living. The subtitle was “Navigating cliques and mean girls long after high school”. Since my DH and I are moving to a ccrc, this was of great interest to me. The study was done as a University of the Sciences class project at the Quadrangle with volunteer residents. (I even knew one of the residents mentioned by name.) So the article is causing quite a stir among the ccrc people. Having gone to four high schools, and fortunately good in sports, I don’t remember a “mean girl” clique type experience. Well, I did move during my my senior year, to a school I detested. I was able to finesse the graduation ceremony, (my Mother was less than pleased) and was in the yearbook from the previous school. Please for give the digression. We’ll see how the next move goes…

    P.S. Molly, We’ve had 2 days without significant rain, finally. Also the Bluebirds are nesting in the upper box.
    Remember, you can never see enough Bluebirds… =^..^=

  • Wendl in Manhattan June 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    This one brought tears to my eyes, Molly. For the past few yrs I’ve been running discussion & learning groups for older people who no longer have any family. We stress creating a supportive team from the community we have (friends, neighbors, colleagues, professionals), and I tell them it all starts with getting out of the house. Say yes more often; take more chances; be brave. That one wild and precious life wants you to grab a-hold of it.

    • Susanna Gaertner June 3, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      Would that I were invited to any weddings and funerals…while I appreciate what you both are saying, what do you do when no one considers you important enough to be included? When you have no family at all? And it’s not for lack of getting out of the house; I volunteer and teach…but am never asked to join or receive invitations to those weddings and funerals and parties and and and of which you speak.

      • Wendl in Manhattan June 3, 2017 at 6:48 pm

        Susanna, the situation you describe is unfortunate and must be so frustrating. Ten years ago I began a new job; no one paid too much attention to me the first few days, so I put a couple clear glass jars of candy on my desk. Soon colleagues were like fireflies, finding reasons to come to my desk and introduce themselves. What I learned is that sometimes we have to be the first ones to make a move. When I meet someone with whom I feel a kindred spark after the first few times, I ask them if they’d like to go for tea & cake sometime, or a glass of wine in late afternoon/early evening. It’s not a long time or big expense commitment, in case it turns out to be a dud. Good luck, I hope you find more ways to connect!

  • Mickey M. June 3, 2017 at 11:36 am

    Thank you, Molly.

  • Shirley June 3, 2017 at 11:06 am

    I don’t go to many funerals any more but I still send cards and/or make donations to charities listed by the deceased’s survivors.