Transitions and Community
Joe Clark ~~ Jun 4, 2004

The topic of the day today on my mind could best described by the word "transitions". As I'm writing this I'm on the final leg of my journey from New Mexico back to Iowa, flying high above the Midwest somewhere. I have spent the last two weeks, and in total six weeks of the past two to three months, preparing for a demonstration of the work technology we have been building for the last 2-3 years, of which I've been involved about 2.5. The demonstration -- the primary culmination of this project -- is now over, the equipment for the demonstration dismantled, and the participants in the demmonstration heading for their respective homes.

Several locations were represented in recent weeks -- workers from more than one organization in locations including Iowa, Texas, and New Jersey, as well as the local folks from New Mexico. What I found as I worked with these people is that we formed an ad-hoc community centered around the common goal of making a system that worked well and orchestrating a presentation to demonstrate that functionality. There has been what seems like a huge amount of work to get to this point, a lot of long hours, a lot of heated discussion, along with the typical mix of great steps forward and a few steps back. But we achieved our goal, and now can move on to other things.

Hence the transition. I have written in previous musings about the seasons of life. I believe that these seasons are somehow intersecting and multi-faceted. Just as minutes turn into hours and days and months and seasons and years, so the times of life take us from one place to another on a minute-by-minute, hourly, daily, monthly, seasonally, and yearly basis. And in one sense I value the change, value the diversity, value the fluctuation of the seasons both in nature and in my own life. But in another sense the feeling is bittersweet, because as I think about seasons and other transitions, I think about the people (and communities) that pass in and then back out of my life.

Take, for example, the people I have grown to enjoy the company of in New Mexico. I shared my life in different ways with a rather large number of people -- more people than I would normally expect. Each person had a unique perspective on the work at hand and on life in general, and I truly enjoyed taking in the "smorgasbord" of ideas and having at least a few conversations that seemed more "real life" than the norm.

Especially with regard to my hotel-mates and rental-car-mates, I *lived* with these people for all practical purposes except the room I stayed in. I drove and rode with them, worked with them, ate with them, talked with them, got [slightlyl] lost in the desert with them...such a community as that is very very rare I think -- perhaps only comparable to typical family situations or college dorm room life. I think we miss something by not living so close to those around us. Because of this, I am bittersweetified about my trip home as well. The sunshine is beautiful in the airplane window (if only I had a camera), and life still has its majority of beauty as well. But what will I return home to? My home, which has again become somewhat foreign to me after traveling; my coworkers, whom I will spend my eight hours a day with but that's all; my work project, which will have a requisite learning curve; my church friends, who will be fun and friendly at church and then carry on with their busy lives the rest of the week. And I suppose the rest of my time and attention will be spent doing some solitary thing like building antennas for wireless LANs or bike riding in solitary fashion or running around the lake and fighting against those calories. These activities all have their place and their share of joy and beauty, but they tend to be incomplete -- the community I find in my "normal" life is, well, lacking. I live my life. Everyone else lives his or her life. That's the basic principle. So I can enjoy my life, and praise God for everything, but it is still more *my* life than *our* life.

One of the things that makes community such a fleeting joy and an abstract concept is the fact that it tends to change. I work on my project, and then it's over. I share my life with a group of people, and then those people spread their wings and fly, whether that be high school friends, or college friends, or work friends, or church friends, or other friends. They say that our society and our technology allows us to be better in touch with one another. It also, I think, has a way of necessitating itself -- by giving us wings to fly, both literally and figuratively, we need such things as cell phones and email to keep in touch and at least try to pretend we're still part of a community together. In the end, technology may not necessarily degrade community, but it has the distinct potential to do so.

So, I'm contemplating how my "typical-for-me Iowa" communities will need to be revitalized to match my remembrances of my "May 2004 New Mexico" communities. In reality, this line of thinking may just be a reminscing of the past, in this case the past of only a few hours or days ago; if that is the reality of it, then my bittersweetness will turn to sweetness when I remember that my Iowa communities are actually fairly cool and cute and special. But from what I remember now, my Iowa communities are...uh...cool, and special, but they could be cooler and specialer. I could feel more attached, more involved, more a part of a cause (even if the cause is just to spend time together) than I usually do. I *am* part of several communities...but they're more of the lukewarm variety than the truly "I can't wait to be together again" kinds of communities. In my communities, I sometimes wonder (I know it might not be fair) do we get together because of habit or because of necessity or is there some element of just wanting to be together too? Answering that question is different for different contexts (random friends vs church friends vs work friends), but the same question is applicable in each context.

A few times tonight (as is typical when I'm in this line of thought), I remember the Acts church and how they seemed to have an elevated coolness and cuteness and specialness factor. Namely, they lived their lives together. You might say they worked together for a common cause, and ate at the same restaurants, and drove in the same vehicles, and coordinated their schedules to do things as a group, and stayed nearby each other in hotel rooms...sounds familiar, and sounds very sunset-in-the-air-beautiful-like, and in my life sounds more like the recent past (NM) than what I remember of my normal life.

Well, anyway, "that's what I have to say about that" as Forrest Gump would almost say. I guess he would say "that's all I have to say about that", but I could probably talk more, but you get the point. My goal, I suppose, will be to celebrate the transitions of life, and try to reframe the transitions as people moving in to my life, rather than people moving out of my life. May I make it my goal to communicate well with those around me, to do my part to make distance and time less of a roadblock to true community, and to make the most of the times I have to experience community and shared life together in whatever way the opportunity presents itself.

Life is good. :-)