Commentary

What My Hometown Taught Me About Community

It is pretty commonplace to hear someone describe their small hometown as suffocating. This is a theme found everywhere in media- books, movies, music, etc. Luke Skywalker, of the Star Wars franchise, yearns to leave his farm for bigger and better things. In L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy dreams of somewhere beyond her small town in Kansas.

I, too, have felt the pull to leave home. The inexplicable and not entirely inherent want to make a life outside of ‘Smalltown, USA’. I loathed how ‘boring’ and ‘uneventful’ life was, and how it seemed there was no real opportunity for growth. The thing I wanted most in the world was to not ‘get stuck’ there. I mean, it is not as though I would never return. I had always planned on coming home, just not permanently.

However, something I’ve discovered over time, is that there are most definitely benefits to living in a small town. I’ve learned many lessons along the way, one of the most prominent being the importance of community. Even if it has taken me nineteen years to fully understand this, it is a value that I am sure will last me for a lifetime. I talked a bit about how I felt ‘stuck’ in my hometown, wanting to leave eventually, but not quite having the resources yet. I thought I was alone with this belief. In the dramatization of my fourteen-year-old brain, I was the only one who had ever wanted to leave their small, rural community- at least the only one with the desire to depart my particular hometown at that moment. Of course, I now know this not to be true, but the feeling of isolation was nevertheless very strong at that point in my life.

With the pandemic, however, I felt a different kind of isolation- stuck inside for a period of time, unable to see friends and extended family members. I was blessed to have my family, and don’t get me wrong, I love them so much, but as time passed, I came to need companionship from the outside world.

As a high school senior, I had been looking forward to graduation for a number of years. When the coronavirus first hit, my class was told that in two short weeks it would be over and things would be back on track. As you already know, those two weeks turned into a year and a half.

With the date for graduation getting closer, disappointment set in as I realized that we were likely not going to have one, or at least a ‘normal’ one. I felt as though my accomplishments were not going to be properly celebrated. All of the hard work that led to this time period seemed not to matter as much. Little did I know that, behind the scenes, something was happening.

My hometown came together and with enough donations, the fire department was able to purchase a banner for each graduate in town. Our Fire & Rescue Department’s Facebook post from that event read: “As you drive through town you’ll notice some flags have been placed to commemorate Canaan’s Class of 2020 High School Graduates. To the Class of 2020, though we may not be able to attend your ceremony in person, just know we are all with you in spirit. Congratulations Class of 2020!! We wish you the very best in the next chapter of your lives!!”

Even though they could not officially support us in person, they still found a way to display their pride. And I can say, from the perspective of someone on the receiving end, this meant the world.

When it was time to take the flags down, we got another surprise- a celebratory parade. Many of my classmates- who I’d known since grade school came and we did a parade of cars, stopping at each pole to take down the respective flags. When the last banner was taken down, we met at a local repair shop where we each got presented with our banner, flowers, and balloons. There was a large reception of community members waiting for us there, along with the many people who came out of their houses along the route to clap and wave.

I did not realize until I came to college, just how special this experience was. Many of my peers did not get celebrations at all. Yet, in the midst of such hard times, my town still felt that it was important to come together as a community to celebrate the
accomplishments of myself and my classmates. This speaks volumes on the type of community I lived in, and one that I am sure you can find in many small towns across the country. So, even if you are a Luke Skywalker, searching for a way out of your ‘boring’ or ‘uneventful’ town, here is my advice to you:

Look around you. I thought that I was isolated when in reality, I had a whole army of support behind me. So, find the people and make connections with them, because a community of support can be a powerful thing. Whether it is assisting a family with a child that has a life-threatening disease or celebrating a dejected group of graduates who didn’t quite get the reception they wanted, the strength of a community can work wonders. So, please, for the good of the world (or even just the good of yourself), do your part in cultivating community wherever you live.

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Jane Breederland

Lovely article. Thank you.