What is it about an ending that pulls at our heart – that makes us long for a community that we, perhaps, did not cultivate?
I'm not even talking about the weighty and seminal endings like college graduations, career shifts, failed marriages or funerals – I'm talking about the last semester of a class that wasn't very interesting, a roommate moving out, getting a different car, when your favorite bartender finds their way to something else or when you finish a challenging experience with a team of people.
What is that lens of clarity that unrolls over our eyes in those final moments that makes us think about all of the times we didn't say thank you, make eye contact, start a conversation, eat dinner with someone new, decide to ride out the boring discussion a little while longer, give that guy without a car a ride – even though he always asks for rides, ask the single mom how she does it or invite someone to tell a Story about their life?
I feel like we miss all of those moments on a daily basis – and it seems like we don’t realize it until we’re about to lose whatever context we missed those moments in. I think it’s easy to be overtaken by the twilight of regret when we see how last moments reveal our lack of presence along the timeline that led us to where we currently find ourselves –
Looking back to when the co-worker was about to leave their going away party and, after a few bottom shelf margaritas, you feel like it's the best time to tell them that you always appreciated how good of a listener they were – but it doesn’t really matter any more. You finally strike up a conversation with the guy in your creative writing class whose feedback you really appreciated, but it's too late to say, We should grab a beer and continue the discussion. The girl who gave you rides home from sand volleyball is being transferred to Houston and, all of the sudden, you realize the urgency of asking her to stop by the snow cone stand so you can talk more and take her on a walk along canals.
But the moment is gone.
Why do those auras of courage choose to shine the brightest in the last moments? Why do our most powerful, dangerous and important human emotions and traits – compassion, reflection, honesty, courage, patience – only surface when on the precipice of change? Why are we magnanimous, focusing only on The Good, when we remember the permanence of time? Why are we most conscious of community when we’re the closest to leaving it?
Does it have to do with being remembered? Do we see we've reached the end of this finite period of time we're allowed to interact with certain people, and we hope they remember us favorably? Do we wish we had more Stories or took more risks?
What does it say about human nature that – in the last moments – we desperately want The Good and The Beautiful to be the things that persist in the space of memory?
It could be the fear of emptiness and the desire for pleasant memories to linger.
Is it that easy to figure out, though?
Perhaps it’s because we realize we’re rarely truly vulnerable – we spend our time finding a way to explain why being alone, independent, and comfortable is somehow the product of an evolving species – that we’re just fine on our own. That we deserve the luxury of a predictable life.
But relationships aren’t predictable – are they?
Neither are good Stories.
Neither is community.
Maybe we realize that, by default, we never choose vulnerability and it scares us when another chance is gone because we're confronted with the realization that chances roll in and out of our lives.
Chances for community are as fickle and constant as the present. They are always there – and always being strung away into the past – the untouchable past that has the ability to touch us even after it’s gone.
Yes, intentional communities take time, hard work and investment. But I also believe community is found in the present – now, today, this minute. And it requires just as much intention. We are in the community of this moment and there’s no better time to be neighborly. Regret can loom all it wants and we can contemplate whether or not we’ve got the best web of relationships and support or whether we’ve chosen to eat dinner with the right people on our street often enough. We can let that regret exist, or we can embrace the community we have right now – this gathering of souls with life echoing inside of us, trying to make sense of the spectrum of thoughts and feelings we filter into our lives.
That is the community I choose – The Present Community.