a special community

A friend pegged me recently, noticing a theme in recent posts… “Start small… Let’s get back to the basics of community!” Exactly. Community is vital to ongoing peace and healthy living. Hence, let’s define it once more.

Multiple definitions are easily found… “a group of people living in the same place”… “having a particular characteristic in common”… “a feeling of fellowship with others”…

All valid and good.

But after a sweet few months of very poignant learning and application, I’ve been wrestling with my own definition. Allow me a humble stab…

Community… a group of people doing life together… a genuine connectivity marked by contagious, unlimited empathy and grace. No judgment. It’s a bunch of small moments strung together, noticing the people around you. Self is always secondary. Community is practical, authentic, and good.

One of the things I have been incredibly thankful for is the blessing of experiencing community. Having moved from a community that was beautifully thriving, one logically questions what will be next. Will we experience this again? Can we experience this again?

The answer is “yes” — especially if we recognize our own role. Thus allow an example from this past weekend…

Our youngest is involved in Special Olympics. Special Olympics are the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with special needs, offering year-round training and competitions to 5.7 million athletes in 172 countries each year. This organization ministers to many in a unique, affirming way.

For us, this past Saturday was the district bowling competition. Our son and his high school team qualified after a strong score in last month’s county competition. But Saturday was initially pretty tiring.

It came on the heels of Friday night, an evening which saw Josh’s high school best their arch rival on the gridiron, capturing the district football championship. Josh was at that game, on the side lines, a student manager for the team. With all the fanfare, celebration, and overflowing adrenaline, it was a late night for all, especially the coaches and players.

Needing to be at the bowling competition by 8:30 a.m., it was a little tougher to roll out of bed. But once there, we would compete against some 350 plus other Special Olympians — a sweet, beautiful sight!

Allow me a brief tangent, as the camaraderie was incredibly contagious… all shapes, sizes, disabilities, and ethnicities… persons in competition with one another, sincerely rooting one another on — celebrating one another.

Osvaldo may have been my favorite. He would approach each roll the same way… sauntering up to line, deliberately dropping his ball, slowly, very slowly. And then he would wait. He would stand at the foul line waiting for that really, really slow-moving ball to make its way to the pins. Most often he watched it roll into the gutter, but any gutter caused no dismay. He would turn around smiling, such joy in his step, thankful for the opportunity to bowl.

The sweetest moment occurred after Osvaldo had thrown multiple, consecutive gutter balls. On the second roll of a final frame, he rolled a one. Yes, one; he hit one pin. Osvaldo turned around, jumping up and down, high-fiving everyone in the adjacent vicinity! He was thrilled with his accomplishment.

Additionally thrilling for us — and back to the point of today’s post — was the manifestation of community…

First, Josh’s Special Olympics coach arrived. He is also the head coach of the football team.

And second, three young men strolled up to Josh as he was about to roll. Each played in last night’s football game. Two of the three, in fact, are highly sought after Division I athletes. Yet each came up to Josh, high-fived him, hugged him, and wished him well. They hung around, letting him know “we are in this together” (… whatever “this” is).

Community, my friends, is sincere. It’s sincere, empowering, and contagious. It’s genuine connectivity — from star to special athletes. There is unlimited empathy and grace, which is powerful indeed. There is no judgment. There is celebration simply in doing life together, whatever that is.