At Acting Manitou we often refer to ourselves as a community, drawn together by our love of theatre for six weeks in the summer. It is an intensified community for those six weeks, with each three week session bringing its own snapshot of life at large. Old friendships are renewed, new ones are formed. There are disagreements and reconciliations. People in our community risk failure, sometimes succeeding at failing and sometimes succeeding at succeeding, and are supported by one another. We share laughter and tears alike and we do so in the spirit of love and friendship. Community, no?
I became interested this past week in asking what it is that makes certain communities so special. What establishes the kind of community in which bonds are made that seem unbreakable, where friends rush to the sides of friends in need without thinking twice? We have all been a part of jobs or groups, regardless of time together, where that special bond was not forged. So why does it happen in such a short period of time in places like Acting Manitou?
The word community came into use around the 14th century, though certainly communities have existed since long before. The word itself stems from the latin word munus, meaning the gift, and cum, meaning together or among each other. So the roots of this idea are literally about giving gifts among one another! Whoa! I had assumed sharing would play a part, but to stem wholly from the idea of giving and receiving gifts among each other is such a stellar thought!
Certainly at camp we find that we are not only out for our individual selves but rather we are out for all of our fellow campers. We live in bunks where we give the gift of assistance and attention. We commune with teachers who share the gift of knowledge and perspective with our campers, who in return share the gift of presence with their teachers. We dine together and share in the gifts of our amazing chefs and we offer them the gift of thanks daily. We share the gift of the arts in our songs, poetry, words and paintings that adorn the camp. It seems that our lives at camp actually center around this idea of sharing gifts with one another! Even in Gotcha, the most competitive moment of our summer, we rush in to congratulate the victor at the end because they represent all of us. (At least this is what I tell myself. I always lose.)
Easy at camp perhaps, sequestered in the hills of Maine with little need to trek to the outside world. But out here? Things are different, no? For me, being a New Yorker, it is easy for my day to be centered on more of the receiving than the giving. I walk through the streets carving out space for myself on the sidewalks, wearing headphones so as to avoid too much of the commotion. Like a hawk or eagle I gun for the subway car destined to be the least crowded so that I can squeeze into a seat of my own. I slide my cart into line at the grocery store and then dart to the vegetables one at a time so that I can get in and out of the grocery store faster. Wow. When I was growing up in a small town in Florida, my mother could spend an hour at the store simply buying flour. Why? Because she would talk to everyone she knew. Here I am burying my head to avoid engaging with my very own neighbors. And this is common behavior here!
Simply writing up this comparison I find myself longing for the salad bar where I am bound to talk to everyone while trying to find the chick peas. I long for the hour of community time at the pool, where I spend a lot of time trying to get everyone to swim. I am longing for the games of mafia played late at night when we are supposed to be in bed. But am I longing for something I must wait a year to have again? Or am I simply blocking that opportunity here in New York? As we leave each summer we say to carry forth the spirit of camp with us as we go home, to remember the principles of camp throughout the year. But this cannot be only when I see people from camp. It is about embodying them in myself, regardless of being at Acting Manitou.
So here’s my proposal. This week, I will take the headphones off. I will talk to a stranger in the checkout line. I will intentionally get on a crowded car so I can make room for other people. I will host a game night. What gifts will you give to others this week to honor and further the community spirit of Acting Manitou?