Building Community

In the words of Brene Brown, we are wired for connection. As human beings, even those of us who understand ourselves as being introverts, need connections with others in order to survive. In order to grow. In order to live in health and wholeness. The number of those connections varies from person to person. The nature of those relationships is as diverse as each one of us. But we need to be mindful and intentional of these connections, this network of people that make up our community.

I am not talking here about communities that have a zip code, but those connections around us that help us not only survive, but thrive. We need a variety of connections around us to support our various needs. Our communities need to include those with whom we can ask for support and with whom we can give of ourselves. Communities include those relationships where we are trusted and with those whom we trust. And ultimately, it is important to have the experience in community where we know we belong. Belonging being the space where we can make mistakes and fail and be forgiven, where we are missed when we are absent and where we experience joy and know our purpose and meaning.

Members of Our Community
In one of the sessions I facilitate in the NEXT Steps program for individuals who are preparing for, are in the midst of or have just ended their primary careers, we talk about our need for community in the second half of our lives. This is just one non-financial aspect of “retirement” planning that we consider in the course. My point is that as we are in times of transition, we need to pay attention to the health and the breadth of those in our community that we need to thrive.

Community includes those who live next to us and down the street in the location where we make our home. So, choosing where to live is important. It is not just about the physical building or house, but who is around us.

Community includes those additional groups that are a part of our lives like our faith communities or civic organizations that we support. The individuals with whom we work are another small community within the larger network of connections in our lives. And once we are no longer working full-time, who will be a part of our day-to-day networks of support?

Family—both biological and chosen—is an important part of our community. Friends both those who have been on life’s journey with us for a long time and those who are newer and experiencing similar life circumstances are vital. In fact, having friendships over decades is one denominator of those who live very long lives.

Varying Ages
In our community networks we have those who we trust to accompany us to our coloscopy and know that they won’t make fun of what we might say as we come out of anesthesia. And we know that they will be able to convey the doctor’s message to us having seen images of a part of our body we haven’t even seen!

A former parishioner, Ruth, was often asked what her secret was for living a vibrant life well into her 90’s. She commented that she always nurtured friendships with people who were younger than herself. She had been widowed in her 30’s and knew the reality that not all of your contemporaries will be there at life’s end. But those who are younger will most likely outlive you and be interested and able to join you in things like travelling the world or participating in a community choir.

Likewise, our communities are healthier when we include connections with those who are older than we are. It is helpful to learn from those who are aging ahead of us. They are like pioneers exploring a new land we have yet to experience, as Joe Coughlin says. Ruth was one of these pioneers or aging heroines for me.

Professional and Diverse
And we have multiple professional connections within our communities of support. Sometimes these are the connections that make us most frightful of moving to a new locale. Finding a hairstylist or doctor can be daunting. And then there is finding a dentist and hygienist combo where you like them both. This can be next to impossible. A trusted mechanic for your car…the list goes on. They are all important pieces to our community puzzle.

Connections within our community with those who are different from ourselves can be a source of joy. For in honoring our differences we have the opportunity to expand our perspective of the world. And learning new things and being curious in general are also components of healthy longevity.

Who are the groups and the individuals who make up your community? What is missing from your network of support?

The assumption that community will naturally arrive at our door is a recipe for isolation and loneliness. We cannot survive by ourselves. Particularly in later life. Aging is not a solo sport. May you continually be engaged in the work of building your community. And may you reap the joy and benefits from the networks of relationships which accompany your life, day by day, one year to the next.

About the Author

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, VP of Engagement and director of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins is the VP of Engagement and director of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging with United Church Homes. She is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, musician, amateur birder and fiber artist. Travel with her spouse, Dave, to visit their adult children and beyond brings her great joy.

View all articles by Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, VP of Engagement and director of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging