In many indigenous communities, the role of the elder is varied and relevant. There are designated people to turn to, to hear stories from, to sing songs, to sit in community.
The idea of having people designated to tend to our community fabric is a foreign one in most communities I know of, whether that is the community on my street, in my neighbourhood, my city or country or workplaces that I know of.
Yet, we do have community tenders – they are just not clearly and consciously seen or understood as such.
For example, I live on a great street. Most people who live on this street say it’s a great street. We have a block party every year, we share information about small things like a break-in on the street, and we help each other out with rides, cleaning up a neighbour’s leaves, offering to shop if someone is house-bound, etc.
But how did this kind of street come about? Not by accident.
There are certain people on this street who play the role that could be seen as tending to the community fabric.
There’s a couple on this street who is the first to lend a hand. They look after my dog when I go out of town. They look after my neighour’s dog when they go out of town (and yes, sometimes there is overlap). When they heard my mother died, they brought over a huge bouquet of white flowers. As I look at them now to identify which kind of flowers make up the bouquet, I am overcome with emotion (white roses, white gerber daisies, white freesias and a white lily in the centre).
My neighbour across the street who texts me to ask how I’m feeling after my Mom dies, is the same neighbour who quietly cleans up the fallen leaves from another neighbour’s lawns (someone who is too elderly to tend to these things) and makes sure they have a clear path if there is an unusual event like snow, etc.
My downstairs neighbour just offered to send my brother some food, knowing that’s a concrete way she can help my brother in his grieving.
I had a party at New Year’s and some of my neighbours on the street came. They came bearing food and together we sung our hearts out and danced our little feet off. It was generous of them to come and partake of this celebration.
Together, we were knitting the fabric of community.
Who looks after your community? Can you notice them and appreciate them? Are you one of them or can you grow into being one of them?
Community is the medicine we all need and are starved for.