It’s a conversation that I’ve had more times than I can count, in particular with friends of my generation (babies of the mid to late 1960s). Usually it’s drenched in frustration and a certain sadness and it’s this: we talk about the feeling that what we lack in our lives is a sense of community, of feeling connected to others who share common values, and who are an important part of our day to day lives. However, thanks to some amazing experiences over the last few weeks, I’ve discovered that contrary to what I believed, I am part of some very powerful communities, and that what I thought I lacked, I have.
Less than two weeks ago, though it somehow seems like many months, I left Vancouver to join more than 50 other participants in the Social Change Institute at Hollyhock, a gathering of social change leaders from around the continent and world. Though I had seen the workshop’s agenda and had a sense of what was going to occur, as always seems to happen when I spend time at Hollyhock, the experience was completely different than what I imagined – and exactly what I needed.
It was an amazing 5 days – connecting with some of the most passionate, committed and breathtakingly creative people I’ve ever met. My brain was buzzing as I absorbed so much information, and spent time connecting with many of the participants. But it wasn’t until our last morning together that I realized what I had really come here to find. On that morning, a fellow participant rose to share a song, a beautiful operatic piece sung in French. As I listened to her stunning voice, I also listened to the words, and my heart burst. French is my first language, as it is for my mother, and was for her parents, and 12 other generations of my grandfather’s family who first arrived in Canada in 1691. As I heard my language being sung, I felt every cell resonate with those many generations, and I realized that indeed I was part of a community, one with a shared language and culture, one that has been passed down from family to family, and continues to be passed on through the French spoken with my nieces and nephew.
With that sense of cultural community so heightened in me, I looked around the room at the people I had spent 5 days with, and realized, that they too were my community. Though we each had different skills and areas of interest and backgrounds, we shared a need to use those talents to create change in the world. Feeling that connection to this group reminded of me of the greater whole I was a part of as each day I focused on the protection of our local ocean.
Since my re-entry into the “non-Hollyhock” world – always a shock – I see that my circles of community don’t stop at what I became aware of on Cortes Island. Through social media, I see that I am part of a broader and growing community – one where I am exchanging ideas with people near and far, often people I never would have met otherwise but who share many of my interests and curiosities. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of my online colleagues in person, and am now building wonderful friendships and partnerships that continue to grow.
And lucky for me, I see that I am part of a pretty special community through my work at Georgia Strait Alliance. At our AGM yesterday, I had the pleasure of gathering with staff, board, volunteers and members as we took time to honour this past year’s hard work, and the many accomplishments we achieved together. Heading out on a boat to cruise the waters of English Bay and Burrard Inlet gave us the time to savour that connection and our link to the waters we all love so much. Indeed, the GSA family is a powerful and growing community.
Community is different than what it was in my grandparent’s generation, where it meant the people who literally lived in your village or town – your family, members of your church and those with whom you worked. Today, the richness of community can still be found – in people with shared passions, in strangers who we never would have met but who become partners and collaborators in creating change through the magic of an online community, and in colleagues who are committed to make our little piece of the world – the Georgia Strait – better for all of us.
It’s been a heady few weeks for me, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s been wonderful to realize that what I thought I was missing, I actually have in abundance. Now that my eyes have been opened to the reality that I am a part of not one but many communities, I look forward to enriching that connection with them in the months and years to come. Community is about sharing and supporting, and knowing that there are so many with whom I can not only share my world with, but who generously will do the same for me, makes me feel more connected than ever before. Community may look different than in the past, but I believe it is more powerful than ever before.