getting help

Having written posts about parts one and two of my bike repair class, I just had to complete the set with a reflection on the third and final class. Approaching this past Monday evening I had a sense of excitement about going to class. After a very busy day I had to work hard to preserve the time and not let other tasks get in the way of attending. I had to rush into the supermarket on the way to grab a salad for dinner, to eat quickly before it was time to get my hands dirty. It wasn’t just that I’d paid for the class – it was a feeling of belonging there.

There were only three students and one teacher in the class. After two three hour sessions, we had started to share friendly chatter about our lives, enjoying the company. Rushing into class I complained about the rough day I’d had with one of our cars, and the three others all shared their latest trials with theirs. We encouraged and helped each other. We ended the class with a discussion of the tools we would buy so we could actually use these skills on our bikes once we got home. Ellen and I agreed to coordinate and fix our bikes together – how else would I remember how do to this?

I thought about how this was a lesson in community. We all need to belong – we spend our lives seeking out communities, formal and informal, that allow us points of connection with people with whom we share interests or values or goals. Even in a culture that celebrates individualism, we really do need each other. Communities offer us opportunities to learn, enjoy, share and support one another.

This three-part class reminded me how easy and natural it is for us to form communities when we are actively engaged in a satisfying, shared activity. It helps for the community to be open and welcoming, and to allow for everyone to learn how to be engaged. In other words, we most enjoy and value communities that value all of us equally and nurture our role.

But the hands-on lessons of this class were instructive for more than the learning and nurturing – we were challenged to take responsibility. No passive bystanders here. When the schmoozing about cars petered out, Rich, our teacher, grabbed a wire cutter and went to each of our bikes and cut our brake and shifting cables. He did it so quickly; no one had a chance to protest. Good thing, because I probably would have. I gasped as I he injured my bike. I feared I’d never be up to the task of fixing these essential parts well enough to safely ride the bike. But Rich understood that we had to learn how to do it by doing it. I took a deep breath and got right to it. And once again, I learned that I could do it once I tried.

This is true also in communities. We experience the richness of community by being active in the work of the community. In our synagogue, we often talk wistfully about the old days when the congregation was brand new and everyone had to do it all themselves, including taking the garbage home (in the absence of a contract for trash removal.) We cooked, cleaned, moved the chairs and made things happen by sheer will and everyone’s hard work. Back then we couldn’t wait to have other arrangements for some of these tasks, and we now pay others to do set-ups and cleaning. It’s a relief and also a challenge—the health and strength of our community will result from our ability to keep everyone invested in the community in same way. The trick is to engage everyone in sharing responsibility for the tasks that make the community tick. We are not going to go so far as to “cut the brake and shifting cables” – but we do depend on each other.

I hope we do a good enough job that the members of our community will feel as I did on this last day of bike repair class – that nothing would get in the way of my attending class, even when it was hard to find the time. We can’t always expect full participation; we know that life gets in the way. But it’s an important goal, and one I am sure we will need to strive for perpetually. But community is where we belong, and well worth the effort.