~The Power of Community~

 I was invited to take at trip to Africa this past December with a mentor of mine, specifically to Kenya, which has been a childhood dream. My mentor advised that I would make lifelong friends while there and I dismissed his words and “thought I will only be there for a few weeks—I have enough friends here in Durango.”  

It turns out my wise mentor was right and once I opened to the connection with the people (not just the majestic wildlife) around me I learned life changing wisdom from them.

 I was sitting in the back of the bus having a conversation with two of these wise women who I will hold close to my heart forever. I believe the conversation was after we had visited Kibera while in Nairobi—that experience alone was life changing. People with very little, relative to what our standard of living is here in the states, invited us into their homes with welcome arms. Children without shoes had some of the most genuine, sweet smiles I have ever seen.

 I shared these observations with my (soon to be) “life-long-friends” and reflected on what that kind of openness and happiness looks like back home, in Durango.  As we talked they shared that when people make a meal—they make enough for, not just their families, but for their neighbors and anyone who may walk down the street hungry, because you never know when the last time they may have had one was.

They prepare enough for others even if that means they may not eat the following day.

 Again I reflected on back home— “Wow! The first thing I did when moving into our house was finish the one section of privacy fence that allowed us to walk out in the mornings and say hello to our neighbors.” This is really a common standard in our society, whether metaphorical or literal “How soon can I get my fence or wall built up high enough to separate and individuate?”

 As I look back on this conversation and my intention of not making “lifelong-friends,” this was my way of separating and individuating. And the moment I engaged in this conversation and shared my vulnerability, risked sounding like a stupid over privileged-American, my mentors warning of making “lifelong-friendships” began. This conversation will stick with me for the rest of my life.

 Since then I have taken heart to what the since of community was over in Kenya and what it is here in Durango. Our community members have experienced an alarmingly high rate of tragedy. Family members and friends loosing loved ones to death by suicide and the number is showing a trend to increase by the end of 2017 compared to last year. The Center For Disease Control lists La Plata County at number one in Colorado for deaths by suicide and Colorado is number four in the Nation.

 Many of my colleague’s, as well as family and friend have theorized the “whys” and one common theme I have heard,  and find to be true, is our general standard of community that perpetuates individuation. Of course there are many reasons for each individual’s wellbeing and breakdown of thriving. It was evident in the recent fire our community has an amazing ability to support and be compassionate for others after experiencing a tragedy. The remaining question is what is missing in preventative action—Community Action when looking at the high prevalence in our community such as suicide, substance use, the un-noticed or unreported feelings of depression, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, etc.? The resources in our community are outstanding, in quantity and quality, compared to other communities—so the question remains, “Why?”

 When I returned from Africa my view had shifted in many ways to a place of noticing how I participate in community and what I learned from my Kenyan friends and what I want to bring into my daily life to foster the cultural way of life I was enlightened to. As I read Besel Van Der Kolk’s book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” I was reminded of the philosophy of Ubuntu—a cultural value in Africa that sums up why people make meals for others at the the risk of not being able to eat the next day. Van Der Kolk asserts that Ubuntu means healing for one cannot happen without honoring commonalities with one another at the deep level of humanness.  

 The difficulty, and where people build “fences” is talking about the more difficult things in life. For example when at social settings and someone asks “how are you?” The expected response is “I am well, and you?” Commonly, conversations consist of success and achievement oriented discussion. Such as “What are your plans for the weekend?” Response “I’m hoping to get at least 30 miles in on my road bike!” These goals are commendable; however, often our achievements and success, our doing  can become our fence and prevent being with one another—prevent Ubuntu.

 When we are being with one another and not doing wellbeing is fostered. I have noticed when I or others practice being rather than doing, Ubuntu comes to fruition. When we can take down our “fences” and share struggles with those close to us and receive validation that grows the relationship. Often it is scary to share vulnerable things beyond our out-door adrenaline avid achievements—that’s one of the best parts of living in Durango right? And, the question is “does this act as a fence to block out what’s going on deeper?”

Whether starting deeper conversations with friends or having park bench conversations with a stranger this is a starting place. It is amazing to me to hear of people taking that first step of vulnerability and talk about something that is troubling them and often surprisingly come-to-find, whom they trusted enough to share with has a similar experience or has been through difficulties and can offer empathy—you really never know what is going on for the people around you until you go to that deeper level. This is the power of community—a way to assert your power in community action.  

If you or someone you know are in need of immediate assistance you can call 911 and request a CIT officer or below are 24-hour resources: 

Axis Health System:

970.247.5245

http://www.axishealthsystem.org

Crisis Text Line: Text 741-741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis. http://www.crisistextline.org

https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/index.html

Lifeline Crisis Chat: Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention, and suicide prevention services

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Related Article:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/a-river-of-lost-souls-runs-through-western-colorado/2016/11/03/154fd1a0-8651-11e6-a3ef-f35afb41797f_story.html?utm_term=.33e7284aec79