Ears to Hear

This is a postscript to Tuesday’s post, a confession of sorts. While it is definitely true that more people are talking to me about community than ever before, upon further reflection, I feel the need to admit that some of it has to do with my own tendency to “hear” community in every conversation.

Take our recent week in Pennsylvania:

When I’m sitting at a family gathering, and a distant relative mentions in passing her friendship with the founder of The Boston Beer Company (they make Sam Adams beers), or that she gets a lamb every year from someone who used to be the president of Bucknell but who, in retirement, raises sheep, well, my brain zeroes in on community. I start thinking about the way people are connected, the odd ways we end up in communities.

Or when we spend a few minutes visiting with my mom’s neighbors, and as the conversation progresses, nearly every person mentioned is identified by his siblings, or by her parents, where he lives, what her maiden name was, who he remarried, where they go to church. While I always figure I either know somebody or I don’t, these people identify you by your connections–your connections to people, or to your childhood home, or to your high school extra-curricular activities. This only happens when generations stay put. This only happens in community.

Or when I sit with J’s grandparents after dinner and hear about the old trolley cars that used to go right through their little town, connecting Pittsburgh with the cities of the north, and how Grandma’s dad used to purchase ice cream that would always melt by the time he’d make it home, since he couldn’t help but stop and chat with folks on the way. Lots of memories are lost these days, but the remembered moments come shining through sometimes in stunning clarity. And that evening those moments tended to be about community.

Or when we sit at the local greasy spoon eating breakfast with J’s parents, and I find out about some of the town’s stranger inhabitants, like the man who picks up trash–whenever, wherever, whatever–stopping his car dangerously in the middle of the road to pick it up, crawling under the bleachers after football games to clean up after the rowdy crowds, gathering up the newspaper left for cow bedding at my in-laws’ house when it gets blown off the trailer. He’s a caretaker of community, and the community knows it.

Maybe these stories wouldn’t mean very much if I didn’t have community on the brain.

Or maybe they would. I don’t really know.

Truth is, sometimes it takes a lot of patience to sit and listen instead of taking the reins in a conversation and talking and talking. But I’m working on it. That’s what’s called having ears to hear.

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