February 27th, 2008 – by Laura
Having spent this past weekend in Harrisonburg, it seems strange to return to Washington, D.C. At EMU I cannot go more than a few feet across campus before encountering someone I know. The weekend was whirl-wind of greetings, quick check-ins, (“Wait, you’re in DC this semester, right? Or have I just somehow not crossed paths with you for the past month and a half?”) and quality time with friends. I found myself thinking, “This is home. This is the place that I know and where I am known. This is a community.” When I walk the streets of DC, I do not run into familiar people. As I walk, endlessly varied faces stream by that belong to people I will never meet, never talk to, and perhaps never even see again. This nature of the city street is something that people cite when they label cities as “impersonal” and “alienating.” Yet as I become more familiar with DC, I am discovering that the city street does not tell the full story.
As I ride the bus in the morning most people sit quietly engrossed in their own worlds, alternately nodding off and staring out the window. Just as I am about to conclude that everyone lives a life of isolation, a middle-aged woman boards the bus who calls out cheerfully to a second woman sitting ahead of me. Magically, the second woman transforms from a reserved, semi-catatonic bus rider into a friend, a mother, and a church leader as the two women swap information about the various doings of their families and their neighborhoods. I experienced a similar moment last week when I sat down on my bus only to hear my name called from a few rows back. Kelsey Anderson, a fellow WCSC student, was traveling home from her internship as well. That afternoon was particularly pleasant because we had the opportunity to commute in the comfortable company of a friend.
A community is composed of relationships, of the common spaces and meanings that individuals share with one another. I am learning that DC contains endlessly overlapping communities of neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and churches. You glimpse these rings of connectedness in more unexpected places, too. At my internship, (an organization that serves persons with mental illness, some of whom are also homeless,) one man recently offered hand lotion to another client because he noticed that the second man’s hands were ashy. He explained that the two men live at the same shelter. Because the second man’s symptoms of schizophrenia often alienate other shelter residents, the first man says he looks out for the second as best he can. It is through stories like this that show me that the importance of human connections in building a meaningful life is as apparent in Washington, DC as it is on EMU campus