Departures: In Search of Community

I just came from a community gathering that truly amazed me, once I saw it with clear eyes.  Consider what I saw.  Everyone was there.  There were Black and White people. People of various Asian cultures were there as were Latinos from various Spanish speaking countries.  The elderly were there–some having difficulty walking.  Young adolescents were there.  Male and female in all ages, all ethnicities were present in about equal number.  Some whom I know to be part of the LGBTQ community were there.  People with both liberal and conservative political, religious and philosophical outlooks were there.

With this great mix of people from so many sub-groupings in our community, it was even more amazing to see that they were not segregating themselves.  They were carrying on in good-natured conversations.  They inquired of each other about their lives, their families, their work, their vacations, their recent illness or surgeries.  They talked about the World Cup Soccer tournament, and I overheard a few conversations that I would classify as more serious–attempts at making sense of things, meaning making, working out ethical dilemmas.

Where in the world do you find community like this?  One might like to think that such gatherings and expressions of community would take place in our most enlightened religious and spiritual communities:  churches, temples, mosques, meditation centers and the like.  The place where I just witnessed these things was none of these.  I saw all of this taking place at my local gym where I go routinely to workout.

Here’s my point of departure:  this gym is where people choose to come to take care of themselves.  In that space, which they must share, where they must cooperate in order to take care of themselves and do so by helping others take care of themselves, people encounter this wide array of humanity.   In this one point–self-care of the body– they find the point of departure for a much larger care-taking.

What can ruin real community like this in a gym is for someone to come into the gym as sort of the self-appointed expert on bodily self-care, and try to tell others that they aren’t doing it right, that what they are doing will never work, that they know a better way.  I’ve seen that happen.  It can clear a workout area.  What I see happen more often, however, is genuine inquiry.  One person says to another something like:  I see what you are doing, and it seems to be working for you.  Can you show me how to do it?  And then, the two enter into a collaboration that can only be characterized as real compassion, real trust.

Could our world’s religious centers take a few lessons from the local gym?

Bob Patrick

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