Guest Blog by Rev. Dr. William A. Holmes (my dad) —
I thought I knew what the word “community” meant until I was in one.
Six months ago, my wife, Nancy, and I moved to Homewood, a retirement facility in Frederick, Maryland, founded and supported by the United Church of Christ – a home which provides life-time care for approximately 400 residents. A recent article in the November 26 issue of the Christian Century, entitled “Bonds of Affection,” gave a new perspective to what we’ve been experiencing since arriving.
The article, by Scott Bader-Saye, refers frequently to C. S. Lewis’ thoughtful study, The Four Loves, where Lewis parses varieties of love by exploring four Greek terms: eros, philia, agape, and storge. Most of us are familiar with the first three expressions depicting love as desire, friendship and gift. But what of storge? I learned it is the Greek equivalent of “affection,” and although not as robust or as intense as the other three expressions, it is storge, or “affection,” which the author finds especially suited to community.
For instance, affection can grow readily in short conversations and shared routines. Of all the loves, it is the most linked to place – arising among those who find themselves sharing a common life not because they have chosen one another but because they find themselves thrown together. Lewis observes that affection is “the least discriminating of loves….Almost anyone can become an object of Affection….There need be no apparent fitness between those whom it unites.”
Furthermore, affection makes possible the largest number of interactions with the most people. As Aristotle observed, it is hard to have too many true friends. It’s just not likely we will find a large number of people with whom we share a great deal, even if we had the time to develop myriads of such friendships. It is affection which makes possible a wide swath of contacts with people whom we can know on a less personal, less intimate basis – persons who can still be the occasion of our appreciation.
One of the less obvious gifts of affection is its tolerance for people who rub us the wrong way. Whether we are attracted to a person or offended by them is really beside the point if, over time, circumstances require our interaction. The author of the article writes: “Gathering becomes the critical practice through which one learns to love those we thought we couldn’t love, those who are not like us, those who will never be more than acquaintances.”
Where do I find such community at Homewood? I was in it the day I arrived, and I’ve been a contributor to it ever since. Community happens every time we go to the Dining Room and visit with whomever may join us at our table. It’s in the Exercise Room where people are working out on a variety of machines, and where my wife and I attend several exercise classes. It’s on the Homewood bus we take to attend plays in Baltimore. It’s in the scores of volunteer opportunities which surround us, from pushing wheelchairs to assisting in the feeding of persons with dementia. Some of us are healthy and mobile, some of us use canes, walkers, rollaters or wheelchairs, and some of us are bedridden. Whether we play golf, bridge or dominos; find ourselves with or without a spouse; hear readily the sounds around us or are “deaf as a post” – this is where life is for all who occupy this space.
The cultivation of our affection for one another only requires a serious commitment to presence. Toward the end of the article, the author observes: “Physical presence, bodily quirks, and simply brushing up against one another all contribute to affection. Affection grows from the soil of time and space, from commitment to place and community. Gathering becomes the critical practice through which one learns to love those we thought we couldn’t love, those who are not like us, those who will never be more than acquaintances.”
To the above description of “community,” I would further add the imperative of a “social conscience.” I’m referring to an informed commitment to the “common good” and a sense of responsibility for the relief of human suffering and deprivation wherever they occur. I’m not proposing that we become advocates of a Utopian world, or that we feel obligated to address and solve all the problems of humankind. But our affection for each other as residents of Homewood, pleasant as it may be, isn’t the same as a caring advocacy for those in need outside our “circle.” We are not a “gated community.”
On the whole, we who are Homewood residents are a privileged people. Our retirement incomes are above average, and we pay for services and amenities many people cannot afford. What keeps us from becoming a parochial enclave is that, in addition to providing for fellow residents who have outlived their funds, most of us are involved in a variety of services addressing the needs of persons in the larger Frederick area, the nation and the world.
“Community,” in the deepest sense, is an affection which not only includes learning to care for persons with whom we share a local space, but also caring for persons with whom we share a common humanity. From the moment we are born, we are inextricably connected to those persons – here and everywhere.
May Homewood always be this kind of community.
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