Friday, March 23, 2012

Death and Community

Two days ago a fire broke out at a house five doors down from my apartment building resulting in the death of one person who was a guy well-known and much-beloved by the local radical/activist/anarchist scene. I knew the guy myself, but our relationship never went beyond the acquaintance level, and we never exchanged more than a few sentences with each-other. There is a collective community-wide (for the local radical community) mourning process going on right now, which I feel pretty much apart from (despite receiving the Facebook event invites) since I never really was connected with the guy.

All of this is bringing to my mind my experience of a couple of months ago, with my discovering the death of my friend Mario. That experience was pretty much the exact inverse of this one - I was personally affected and in a state of grieving, and everyone else around me was perfectly fine and unaffected by the whole thing. With that, there was no collective mourning process, no community coming together, no emotional support.

I then started thinking about prior deaths that I have experienced within a community context. The one prior to Mario was a woman named Dina, and we were both a part of the "Consciousness Transformation Community". This community was pretty much a "virtual community", existing mainly through the internet and telephone conference calls. I never actually met Dina in person. Her death was discovered similar to how Mario's was - somebody took it upon themselves to do some research on the internet to see what happened to her after some time had gone by without anyone hearing any word from her.

Prior to that, in June 2010, there was the death of a coworker of mine who lived and worked at the same house I did at Camphill Soltane. With her death, there was a wonderfully supportive and emotionally & spiritually connecting community response. The only problem that I had with that experience is that there was not that same strong sense of community and connection before-hand, that she felt isolated and hopeless enough to want to kill herself in the first place.

Rewind now to some years before even that, going back to the year 2004, and I recall the most positive experience that I have had with death and community. I am referring here to the death of Julie Greene, who was one of the founders of BayNVC in California. With her, there was a very strong sense of community, emotional support and interpersonal connection for everybody before, during and after her death. Even her funeral itself contained time and space within it for everybody to openly express themselves and to be listened to emphatically. This whole experience was definitely one of the most positive, inspiring and moving experiences I have ever had in my life.

Reflecting on all of these experiences, I realize a few things. For one, I see community as being important, as essential even - but it is very hard to define, and even harder to be a part of. With the current situation here in Minneapolis, I am having a strong sense that I personally am not a part of this community. I coexist with it and interact with it, but I do not have a personal sense of belonging to it and the collective mourning that is taking place seems to me to be something that does not really relate to me.

Likewise with Mario's case, he had distanced himself from others so thoroughly that even others whom I consider to have been a part of the same community as him they themselves do not consider him to have been a part of their community. With the case of Dina and the "Consciousness Transformation Community" before that, I never really considered that to have been a real "community" in the first place. In fact I have strong reservations and doubts as to whether a "virtual" online "community" is even possible. If it is possible, I definitely do not see such a thing as being desirable. I think that human beings have the built-in need for the presence of other people face-to-face and in the flesh.

With the case of Young-shin at Camphill Soltane, another point becomes clear to me - interpersonal connection and emotional support is necessary every step of the way: before, during and after the death. This same point was illustrated to me, in the positive sense, through my experience with the death of Julie Greene. In both cases, I saw first-hand the amazing benefits of having a strong community response and how helpful it is to have structures in place that are capable of "holding" everybody, their feelings, and their grieving.

What becomes clear to me throughout all of this is the desire I have for a clearly defined, actively engaged, in-the-flesh grouping of people who support each-other and care for one-another. I guess that I personally define "community" as being "a situation where my friends are friends with my friends". This is actually a very rare experience, or at least I haven't come across it that much, and I have the sense that this is something that is severely lacking in general, at least in the modern-day Western world.

I have had this experience of community (as I just defined it) before though, twice in my life - most notably at Twin Oaks Community in Virginia, and in the San Francisco Bay Area among the Nonviolent Communication and anarchist scenes there. The former was within the context and structural frame-work of a rural income-sharing intentional community and cottage industries, and the later existed within the context and structural frame-work of an urban network of inter-connected projects, groups, spaces, non-profit organizations and events. These are two very different situations, but in my experience they both shared that same solid sense of community.

I am unsure about where to go with all of this. I have my ideas, my past experiences, and my yearnings that I am feeling. And, as I (and we) keep on coming across - death is inevitable, and persistent. The most that I can hope for, and strive to actualize, is a continuing sense of love and care for others and the world. This is most supported, and best carried out, within the context of a community environment. A real community of care and support. This is what I wish for, both for myself, others, and everybody else.

1 comment:

Ian Mayes said...

Here is a news article about the guy in Minneapolis: