Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
Over five years ago, in the very first “Circles of Community” column, I wrote:
“Humans are innately social, communal and creative creatures, whose ancestors sat in a circle around a fire telling stories. A community is made up of circles: Family, friends, work, recreation, church, town, state, country. Circles represent balance. They are whole and complete, without sides or hierarchy. Where circles overlap there is cohesion, unity among common elements; friends you trust, who support you and care for you. At the point of connection lies strength.”
I have been reminded of this concept of community circles lately and their strength, as well as just how small our state actually is.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a staged reading in Wallingford of a play written by a new talented artist friend and directed by an old one, a former high school classmate (the two of whom I had, incidentally, introduced). After the play, over refreshments, I was talking to another friend, a fellow writer and an artist, someone highly involved behind the scenes — literally making them — in local theater. A woman approached us, I assumed to talk to my friend, which she did, since she was also part of the Vermont theater scene. It happened that I also knew this woman, albeit peripherally, from my days singing with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra almost 20 years ago, when I lived in Burlington. I didn’t think she knew me, but then she turned to talk to me about something she wondered if I’d be interested in.
Two weeks later I attended a meeting in Middlebury with my former singing associate, only to discover my brother-in-law in attendance, as well the woman who had hired me a few years ago to work with the Montpelier-based Vermont Humanities Council. It just so happens that the next meeting of this group will be at a gathering of historians, including at least one of the people connected to the book I wrote last year.
Circles within circles, intersecting more circles. This is an example of the art world connecting with the theater world with the music world with the literary world with the history world, bringing people together from all over the state.
Obviously, there are disadvantages to living in a small, rural state, but it cannot be denied there are also advantages. When it is only a few hours drive between our relatively small “big” towns, where within each one individuals and organizations are undertaking and succeeding at artistically, economically, socially and ecologically creative endeavors, the web of personal connections, including with the residents of the smaller towns in between, easily grows.
And it is through these connections that a strong dynamic community is created. The melding of ideas grows new, better ideas, and the sharing of personal stories and new perspectives fosters understanding and acceptance. This can promote action towards change and growth for the state as a whole. Even the lowest grassroots efforts can bubble up to eventually initiate change at the treetop level.
Once in a while, the conversation arises in our home about whether it would be better for our kids and our careers if we were to move to a bigger, more diverse area. Of course, there would be positives, but every time this subject comes up, my husband and I arrive at the same conclusion: It is, in part, the connections made and future ones available in this state, and particularly this town, that make it a wonderful place to live.
Every interaction is a chance for interesting conversation, to learn something, to hear a different perspective, to discover new things to do and experience. And every new experience is an opportunity to gain insight into personal growth, family well-being, or community enrichment. Each person we meet has unique life experiences, holds unique skills and knowledge, and has something unique to offer to others, even if it is as simple as their personal story. It is these stories that bring circles together, where people can connect at a point of recognition or empathy and new understanding.
This is a small state, ours is a small town, but I truly believe it is exactly because of our size that we are able to make big things happen, creative things, things that promote positive change. That is the strength that comes from the points of connection of our various and varied circles of community.