What is community to you? Is it living among people that you may or may not speak to? Is it seeing everyone rushing around you as you go about your day? Or is community something more? Is it when we stop together in that mad rush and make a connection, even just for a moment, with another human?
Today is a holy day or High Day in many religions. Lughnasad or Lammas is the first harvest festival and the beginning of autumn. Or, alternately, an anniversary of the games held by the God Lugh at the death of his foster mother. Anyway, this particular point in the year is often used as a time to meditate upon the "fruits" that one has reaped. Whether those fruits are spiritual, emotional or even physical.
The reason I find myself so curious about community today is that this is the first High Day in years that I'm spending alone. Or, at least, without the company of fellow pagans. I usually love Lughnasad. I love the introspection into how I've grown in the last year and would like to continue growing in the next. I love cooking a meal for myself and my guests to share with the Gods and spirits. I even love cleaning up after ritual because it gives me a reason to spend more time contemplating what I've heard during it.
This year I'm flying solo. I've written my ceremony for this afternoon and baked my bread, but I feel alone. The feeling started this morning at work. I nearly ignored it at first because the idea of feeling alone in the midst of people I've known for nearly four years seemed so bizarre at first.
After thinking on it a while it seemed less strange though. Today at work is just the 1st of August. A busy day to be sure, the first of the month always is, but nothing more than that. To my co-workers today is just another day. I felt lonely because I was the only one there who saw today as something more.
I thought about it. I don't talk about religion or politics at work usually. My co-workers are quite a bit more conservative than me for the most part, and I try to spare their more delicate sensibilities where I can, but I wanted to do something to bring a little bit of Lughnasad into work with me. To do something to make me a little bit less solitary for the day.
I decided that I was going to pay more attention to my customers for the day. I wanted to take a minute to get to know each of those faces that I'd only associated with the baked goods that went along with them for years.
So I started asking questions. How are you? How has life been treating you. Even things as prosaic as asking if they were enjoying the heat. For the most part it worked.
It was as though the people that I'd been serving for years had just been waiting for me to give an opening for conversation. I spent the day learning about their children, jobs, worries and hopes.
I learned their names.
The moment that stands out the most to me is a gentleman by the name of Roy who came in to pick up a cake. The inscription was to read, "happy birthday everyone." So I asked if they had several birthdays in the beginning of August in his family. He explained that it wasn't for his family. The cake was instead headed to a recovery home just a few blocks down the road from my store. They had at one point been able to get a cake for each birthday, but with funding drying up they'd switched to one cake a month for everyone.
We exchanged a few words after that. I mentioned that my father would get his 20 year sobriety chip this year and Roy informed me he'd just gotten his 19 year chip. With that, he left.
This is going to sound odd, but until that moment I'd never considered the fact that there were people out there who had lost so much that the only acknowledgement of their birthday would be a cake bought by the recovery home they lived in.
I'd been thinking myself such a paragon of loneliness all day; telling myself that spending a holiday alone was such a terrible thing. When all along, two blocks down, people were celebrating their birthdays weeks early because it's the only time they could afford the cake.
It was a wake-up call for sure.
So that's my story. I decided to try to connect with the sea of faces I see every day and harvested a few new fruits. Thanks to Roy I was reminded to be thankful what I had, and to have compassion for those who have less. Lughnasad is a time for reflection, and he certainly gave me a lot to reflect upon. Even if he just came in to buy a cake.
Be happy and blessed.