A community gathers
By the time this appears in print – certainly an occupational hazard for a monthly column – our annual Glen Ellen Street Fair will have happened, when a freshly refurbished Arnold Drive will have been closed down for a big-hearted, community-wide block party all afternoon. Though it’s difficult to write about something that has not yet happened, it’s not hard to anticipate a thumping great time. This is when people will gather to share their talents and skills, enjoy local food and drink, listen to some live music, and have some good old-fashioned fun together. It’s like that random conversation with a neighbor at the post office, or a friend in the checkout line at the Village Market – only stretched out longer, and longer lasting.
And the parade! Half the village turns out to cheer the other half as they go by, on the shortest route imaginable – from the foot of Carquinez Ave., around the corner, and across the bridge. That’s it. It’s just about over for some, before the others can even begin. Then the crowds will begin wandering along the street – talking with old friends and welcoming tourists as our special house guests, and newcomers just now settling into their new homes. The weather, to all appearances, will be perfect – if a bit on the warm side, so I’m bringing along my Panama.
This is one of those gatherings that stitch a community together, where we remind one another of who we are and what we’re up to, and that we’re happy to hear about it. It’s good to do this frequently. It happens at the pancake breakfasts and the spaghetti feeds, and maybe once in a while at the Jack London Saloon.
A few weeks ago, the Glen Ellen Historical Society provided one of these gatherings at the local firehouse, where retired Chief Peter Van Fleet told the stories of the fires that had brought the valley together and forged our great fire department over the past century, from the early volunteer bucket brigades to the highly trained professionals that protect us today.
We heard about the warriors and rescuers that rush to manage and minimize the damage, despite the danger. They deserve to be known as the muscle and heart of the community, as they tend to the accidents and other medical emergencies that threaten us every day, and remain vigilant about the possibility of a wildfire breaking out. Even as Peter spoke, reports could be heard over the squawkbox in the background from one of the most devastating wildfires ever, as it was breaking out nearby and growing out of control.
Of all the natural disasters, there is no force I fear more than fire. As a child I often thought I could see it surreptitiously watching us from the fireplace, spitting occasional embers while waiting for our guard to drop as we dozed there before it, and for the chance to turn feral. I would watch my father bank the coals each night, and feared that it still might slip out as we slept to exact vengeance for its slavery to us by burning down the home that it had heated.
What is feral has regained its wildness – but it need not be violent. The happy energy of a community coming together to dance in the streets in celebration breaks through the routine constraints of errands and chores to reach something more natural, more spontaneous, and does so with responsibility – reminding us that we are able to respond to one another, to connect and relate, and that a bit of the wild is most generously included.
We human beings are social beings – and as social beings we need our community to survive, just as our community needs us to flourish. We must especially take care to include those who would otherwise slip away unnoticed, who would isolate themselves from the rest and become vengeful, believing they are shunned. We need to think of them not simply as dangerous sociopaths that lack empathy and conscience. They are as dangerous as feral embers, to themselves and to others, but they are also people who are starving miserably at our banquet.
As a community, we come together to celebrate, to protect and defend – and sometimes to grieve, as in Newtown, Isla Vista or, now, Roseburg. I know too well that – by the time this appears in print – just as another wonderful street fair in Glen Ellen will have certainly taken place, another senseless tragedy may also have struck at the heart of a town like ours. I deeply hope not, but I really don’t know. What I do know is that there is a place for everyone just their shape and size, and that they will all need to be included.
Jim Shere is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Glen Ellen. He is also a writer and poet, and executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere.com.