Monday, August 15, 2022

Eight Days in the Grand Canyon (Supplement 2): On "Community"

One doesn't want to be a curmudgeon as one ages; at least this one doesn't, futile though the effort may be. That said, I have been sick to death of the word "community" for years. With the advent of the Internet, I would be willing to guess that it may be the most overused word in the language. Every site; every Instagram; every YouTube channel refers to itself as a "community."

It all falls flat for me. Can we be in a real community with people we will never meet? One can argue that we can, but it just doesn't feel right. 

In the real world, our towns are often referred to as "communities." This makes a little more sense, I suppose. Other than a few close neighbors, though, it doesn't feel that way to me in my town. It hasn't feven after two decades. 

As someone who is an introvert by nature, being in groups is generally my last choice. Years ago, however, I think I wrote about the film Witness, with Harrison Ford, and a scene, therein, in which the Amish people come together for a "barn raising." That is the kind of community I can get behind: people willing to really help each other -- not people just organizing Little League together or people reporting each other for having too many weeds at the curb -- but people really being there for each other. 

I was thinking about this last week when my wife and I spent eight days, with a bunch of other expedition members, rafting the Colorado River the entire length of the Grand Canyon. (The entire, longish, story is here.)

According to our trip leader, at any given time, there are about one-thousand people in the Canyon. (It's strictly controlled by the National Park Service.) Given the scope of the place, that's not a lot. And what is cool is that all of them are there for the same reason: to experience the power of Nature, to challenge themselves and to escape the "rim world."

Over those eight days, the common purpose made not just our expedition of thirty, but the other groups we ran across, feel like a real community. Add to that the fact that rafting the Canyon is a kind of filter: most of people go there and see it from the rim, but how many people want to live in there for eight days? -- the proverbial "birds of a feather," that's who. 

Despite different backgrounds, there was kinship in our group. I'm a musician/teacher; Karen is a nurse; one guy works for General Mills. We had a retired bus driver and a Spartan racer; a college student and an air-traffic controller. Our captain works full-time on a ranch and another group member is a retired school bus driver. The trip leader is in construction; one of the swampers is a diesel mechanic. There was a police officer and an airman in the United States Air Force. 

It was like a Chaucer thing: he mixed pilgrims from walks of life who would never have interracted in Medieval society when he wrote The Canterbury Tales: craftsmen, priests, nuns, knights, etc. They had a common purpose, though: a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. Of course, Chaucer was doing a literary experiment, but the situation was not implausible. On such a trip, a knight might find he had much in common with a lowly carpenter or a housewife -- people whose circles he would never otherwise have run through.

We were in the Cathedral of Nature in that Canyon -- pilgrims with a common purpose. (And we got along much better than Chaucer's pilgrims did.) It's yet another proof that what we do isn't who we are. (I once heard a wonderful quotation: "We are not humans doings; we are human beings.")

This trip was, as I said, really a filter for people. First, it had to be people who had evern heard of this kind of trip -- real delvers who did their research and didn't just settle on a fifteen-minute gawk over the rim. Second, it had to be people who were willing to inconvenience themselves for eight days with no showers in intense heat and sun. Third, it had to be people who were willing to shell out the money required for this experience -- similar money for a trip to a resort, but without the comfy hotel, swimming pools and room service. cell service.

The result: people A true community, if you ask me. 

Ben, our trip leader, said (and exemplified) numerous times: "We take care of each other down here." And that might be the final ingredient for, at least, the kind of community I respect. 

There was no hospital; there were no police or fire organizations, but there were plenty of opportunities to get hurt or lost or stuck. Who was going to do the rescuing? 

Us. We depended on each other. 

Even when there wasn't a need for dependence, the general attitude was complete camaraderie. If you saw boats from another trip, it was all smiles and waves and Grand Canyon yelps of joy; it was all wishes of "Have a great day," or "Have fun at Lava!" 

So, yeah -- I don't really want to hear about online communities or groups of people just claiming the title as a result of proximity. Community has to be in the flesh and it has to be real. At least, to me. 

This was it. 

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