The only person on my street who knows my name is Mr Mario. True Sicilian and Italian to the bone, making the best pizza in the neighbourhood. During the summer days, he puts a chair in front of his small pizza place (everything he cooks is for take away only, not enough space for a single table) and notices. The street, the people, the rush. He is the only one not rushing. This is how we started to say hello. First in French. Then in Italian. I revealed I speak his language and that I have an Italian family. A connection.
Saying hello to him gives me the sweet feeling of belonging to a community. An exceedingly small one, but a community. And for brief moments I stop being a perfect anonymous living in a big city.
The long years of living abroad were overall me, myself, and I years. Yes, I have friends. Beautiful ones. We do see each other whenever possible, but always on tight schedules after coordinated efforts. True, better than nothing. Yet not enough. I do not blame or condemn. It is a fact and the reality of these (modern) times.
Recently, unsolved family issues called for a trip back home. To Romania and to my beloved village. Back to my childhood street, where everyone knows everyone. I went back to the place where I do not have to present myself or explain who I am. I went back to the place where everyone knew me since I was a kid.
It felt good being back to, and being a part of, a community. A community where its members support its peers, give a hand, laugh, gossip, sneak peek over the neighbours’ fences. I went back to the place where friendly salutations are the norm. I went back to the place where the surveillance squad grannies 😊 stop in the middle of the street to watch everything it is happening on their turn. I went back to the place where popping up at your neighbour&friend’s door to say hello or to share the latest village gossip, it is not frowned upon. It is a celebration and a moment to reinforce the collective bonds. For two weeks I felt cared for, seen, safe and above all, not alone.
I went back to the place where life is raw, authentic, imperfect, and real.
Being part of a community and having strong social networks, are pillars of longevity. In the book The Blue Zones Dan Buettner identifies nine common elements for all the areas with highest number centenaries around the world. If you have not read the book yet, please do. It will bring an old fresh perspective on how life is meant to be lived (not completely tainted by the western modern standards). Secrets best known by our grandparents and millennial wisdom are shared in beautiful, touching life stories. Among the many points the book puts forward, I kept thinking about the ones I am missing the most: the sense of purpose and the sense of belonging to a community. Finding your tribe is one of the essential ingredients of a happy, long life. We have the Mediterranean countries to look at. With their traditional lifestyle where unity and community go hand in hand with a life well lived, they give the perfect example. Life is based on solid principles and the community is the foundation.
A few months ago, I watched a documentary focused on the architecture of the modern urban environment. The sad conclusion was that life on vertical is not helping the communication, and implicit, is not supporting the idea of communities. There are (almost) no spaces left where people can gather, connect, interact. Big city life has it benefits, cannot deny. But I cannot stop wondering if the mirage of the success it is preaching, success defined by a fat paycheck, a fancy job title, visibility, one second online glory, is not alienating us. The society it is being transformed in a sum of selfish individuals. A sea of lonely and lost egos.
So I ask: do we want a society of alone – accomplished individuals, or do we want a society of supportive and empathic humans where everyone is integrated?
And please bear in mind that a solid community is not diminishing its parts. It is creating the right environment for everyone to flourish.
Building a community takes time. You sow a seed, you care for it, you nurture it. You put in love, patience and invest time. Long lasting connections are not born overnight. Knowing that the community you belong to becomes your defense fortress, compensates the effort. Shoulder to shoulder towards creating solid grounds for solidarity.
It takes a village not only to raise a child. It takes a village to raise socially integrated human beings. Through our communities we develop our sense of belonging. Through our communities we learn that we are not isolated, we learn that we are part of a system that values and supports its members. Through our communities we learn to respect and to be respected. Through our communities we grow as individuals and members of a collectively built structure.
It is in our power (and in our interest) to cherries, value and sustain our communities.
Next time you walk on your street and see the same old neighbour seating majestically and scrutinising the street, please say hello. You never know where the simplest hello might take you…
Lots of love,
Sharing Simple Words