The concept of community is as old as creation itself. Without community, all creation spirals out of control and into a chaotic state driven by the illusion of control.
The illusion can only last so long, until a crisis happens that pulls back the curtain, revealing all your vulnerabilities that are absent from the covering and strength found in healthy communities.
This whole idea reminds me of a movie my son and I recently watched. In the movie department, we’re both true story connoisseurs and “The Mercy” doesn’t disappoint. It demonstrates exactly what can happen when someone becomes dangerously disconnected from the life preserving constructs community connections epitomize.
The movie is built around the 1968-69 Sunday Times Golden Globe around the world, non-stop, yacht race and Donald Crowhurst, an amateur sailor, whose fate seems to be doomed before his yacht ever makes the water. The story’s tragic ending almost seems inevitable as Crowhurst, a middle-aged engineer, allows himself to be swept away from all community ties that bind him to the sacred sanity; found only in the tension of being fully present and living life together with others whose plights are peculiarly common to his own. When we allow ourselves to lose sight of community, we too are left to the mercy of the proverbial roaring sea and we’re as good as dead in the water.
As I contemplate the necessity of community connections and the need to maintain healthy relationships this question echoes in my mind, “Do I really need some sort of sustainable family system around my life in order to avoid being destroyed by myself (internal tension) or by the elemental forces that surround me (external tensions)?”
The answer resonates in the form of an age-old question, “Why do zebras have stripes?”
Zebras are herd animals and social creatures by nature. They have been known to form large herds thousands of zebras strong and if one zebra gets hurt its immediate family circles around to fend off predators such as lions and hyenas.
What if the stripes are really a communal life preserver that prevent predators from singling out a weak or injured zebra because all the stripes together make it virtually impossible to differentiate one zebra from the other?
Talk about strength or safety in numbers. The herd is the zebras’ community and its stripes are the mark of unity and togetherness that just might be what protects it from the jaws of the roaring lion’s mouth.
No man is an island and those who attempt to be are as vulnerable as a zebra without stripes. Community is found in common places where we are circled by others who provide the stripes that protect and unite us. The community ties that bind us to a sacred sanity that’s dependent upon the life-giving process of cooperation.
Donald Crowhurst would have done well, as would every other man, to pay head to the words of John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
There is something profound that happens when a community comes together for the betterment of its citizenry: people start helping people and the individual “I” must sail alone becomes “we” must set sail together. A circle is formed around those who have been battered and bruised and it remains unbroken until their stripes and merits become so much like the stripes and merits of those encircling them that no one can tell them apart.
Then it happens, a symbiotic relationship begins to take shape where the life and purpose of one becomes the life and purpose of all. And out of the depths of everyone’s sorrows and brokenness rises a beautiful cause greater than the mercy of any sea – an unsinkable ship that never sailed alone.
Unified is a ship any community can sail straight into the history books. One man can’t build and sail a ship around the world alone, it takes a community to create a cause that can circumnavigate and change the world. May we never sail alone and may the circles we build create ties that cannot be broken.
Dr. T.J. Kimble of Radcliff is a clinical pastoral counselor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.