There is a hole in our lives where community should be.
We try to fill it with chocolate, new clothes, wide screen plasma tvs, email and facebook, but ultimately it is the gnawing, empty feeling that we get when we are not surrounded by people who know and value us.
Community used to be found in our neighbourhoods, but these days we drive in and out so fast that there is no time to connect with anyone on the street. Which isn’t a problem, because there is generally no-one on the street to connect with. They’re all in cars, or working 15 suburbs away. I sometimes walk my youngest daughter to childcare, and it is rare that we meet anyone on the street. Those we do see are usually wired in to their iPods or mobiles, with a determined lack of eye contact.
Community can occasionally be found in a workplace – but this is increasingly rare as workplaces squeeze the last drop of productive time out of their employees, and the free tea, coffee and biscuits that draw people to the tea room are the first things to be cut in the corporate fat-trimming (rather than actually trimming the fat, this is draining the lifeblood, but somehow the execs who are living off the fat don’t seem to see it that way).
Community is found outside my eldest daughter’s primary school, in the form of Marianna, the crossing guard. In Marianna, the title ‘lollypop lady’ never had a truer incarnation. She knows everyone, and within a few weeks of starting prep she has the life stories of the preppies and their parents at her fingertips. She watches over everyone with a benevolent eye, and kids who graduated from the primary school 10 years ago still come to visit and share their lives with her. She makes chocolates for everyone at Easter, with a special present for my youngest, who is allergic to dairy. She dresses as the Easter bunny and carries a basket of goodies. At Christmas she wears reindeer horns, and her smile and cheery greeting has mended many a broken heart, and rescued countless bad days from the rubbish heap.
When I published an article about breastfeeding my 2 year old, she happily reminisced about still breastfeeding when her son was 3. She sometimes asks me if my little one (who she refers to as her Angel) is still getting my milk, and is so thrilled to find the answer is yes. 30 years ago she copped a lot of flak for breastfeeding a 3 year old, but she was, and still is, perfectly able to tell the world where to get off – to robustly stand up for what she believes is right, and damn the torpedoes! She inspires those around her to do the same.
The unthinkable happened this week – there was no crossing guard on Wednesday afternoon. She had been there on Wednesday morning, but there was no sign of her in the afternoon. The school community was disturbed – people buzzed around the crossing like bees who have found an interloper in their hive, but no-one knew what had become of her.
Suddenly I realised that although I knew half her life story, and she probably knew all of mine, I didn’t even know her surname. I had no way of finding her and finding out what had happened – of making sure that she was ok, that she knew we were all worried about her.
I don’t know her surname, nor her address. She doesn’t know mine. But she is a dearly loved member of my community. Marianna – I hope you’re ok. Hundreds of hearts, big and small, are pining for you.