Community Counteracts the Seduction of Cynicism

From Lydia Wylie-Kellermann of Word & World and Jeanie Wylie Community in Detroit:

Cynicism seems an easy road these days. From my own porch, I watch the house across the street burn just days after US bank told us they had no intention to ever sell. On the corner a fifteen year old girl was shot and killed. At the Catholic Worker, I spend more time answering phone calls and turning down desperate pleas for a place to stay that night. In Detroit, democracy slips away as the city is taken over by corporate interests. Wars continue endlessly with no end in sight and growing rumors of more to come. Not to mention the political climate, the environmental climate, the continuing racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia around us. We all have an ever growing list. It is all too much. I can understand the temptation to look out at this world from a distance and say “it will never change” and slam your door. How do we resist a hopelessness that enslaves us and stops our action?

Community. I think of Dorothy Day writing in The Long Loneliness:

We were just sitting there talking when Peter Maurin came in. We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying, “We need bread.”… We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us…We were just sitting there talking and someone said, “Let’s all go live on a farm.” It was as casual as all that, I often think. It just came about. It just happened…It is not always easy to be joyful, to keep in mind the duty of delight.

It is in those moments of sitting with one another that hope finds a form, that creativity breaks through the soil, that the world doesn’t seem so big. Community offers us space to express our grief and outrage in a way that fosters movement. It is within community that I am held accountable to this world, to the work, and to counting it all joy.

How can I be cynical when I witness the easy laughter of a woman raising three kids whose husband was deported to Guatamala, when a housemate is organizing homeless folks to join a park clean up led by folks trying to run these same men out, when I see the amazement on a seven year’s face as he admires the compost that once was his apple, when I stand at anti-war vigils that have been going on weekly for a decade, when I join a circle of folks reading the Gospel and calling for an end to empire, when my neighbors spend an afternoon cleaning the ally of needles and condoms. It is in these circles, in these relationships, in these communities that hope gets its grasp in my bones.

It’s been six year since my time in Palestine, but my heart is visited regularly by a group of children in the town of Saara. We were joining a protest at a road block where a couple hundred kids had carried signs, singing chants, and symbolically shoveling away the dirt. These children were met by eight military vehicles, snipers, sound bombs, tear gas, and the threat of live ammunition. In the initial fear, the children fled back in to town. My heart sank at the insanity of mass violence against nonviolent protests organized by children!! I would have turned back then giving into cynicism. But that was never a possibility in the minds of these children who walked back to the road block. A group of the boys came out in traditional Palestinian dress and began to dance the Dabka. Singing, clapping, and joyful sounds were raised overpowering the evil of violence that surrounded them. That to me is the purest example of community being the strength to overpower cynicism.

Grace Boggs says that in this historical moment the most important work that we can be doing is to build community. Build community in every moment, in every place, with all those you touch. Allow them to hold you accountable to hope and to joy. Offer gratitude for the communities that have and continue to nourish our souls.

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