We recently spent a very pleasant evening with a couple sharing a meal, looking out over the Pacific as the ocean once more consumed the warmth of the sun, marveling as how no two sunsets, just like no two days, are exactly the same. Before dinner, our host and I walked along the beach, discussing the parts of our lives most important to us, leaving our spouses to have their own private conversation as dinner was being prepared. We discussed the nature and challenges of our work as physicians, and he expanded on the central role extended family played in his personal life. He being Middle Eastern, this came as no surprise to me, as I have long observed the tight familial bonds of culture in various ethnic groups who place high premium on the importance and centrality of familial connections in life.
After dinner, relaxed and appreciative of our good fortune, we were able to talk about topics that were personal, meaningful, and somewhat sadly, not often discussed between people calling each other friends. All four of us come from different cultural backgrounds, but through our discussion, have taken a small step in the all-important need we all have in forming a community.
A recent WSJ Magazine piece asked some luminaries to weigh in on their idea of community. David Oyelowo, and actor, producer and director, wrote: “Community for me has hinged on mothers, whether it be my mother or my wife…Mothers are exemplary to me of how to, in a very natural and organic way, build community, which is through food, through conversation, through kindness and joy.” Elizabeth Nyamayaro, former U.N. senior adviser, wrote: “I grew up in a very small village in Zimbabwe, where gogo, my grandmother, raised me. She shared with me an ancient African philosophy called ubuntu that literally translates to “I am because we are.” It is the understanding that we all belong to one human family, that we need each other and we are responsible for each other…We realized we’re all connected in our shared humanity.” Finally, Edward Lee, chef and founder of LEE (Let’s Empower Employment) Initiative, writes: “This year, after almost three decades of being a chef, I finally understand what the power of a meal can be: hope. Sometimes a meal goes to a family of four who struggle each night to put food on the table. Sometimes it’s an elderly person who lives in isolation with no one to talk to. Sometimes it’s a person so distraught that a meal feels like a connection greater than one’s own struggle. But all these people share one thing: they are all part of a community. A meal tells people someone is thinking of them. A meal is a connection to a farmer, a purveyor, a chef, a hostess, a volunteer and, ultimately, to a person who is thankful. A meal is a sense of normalcy in an insane world.”
Some of us have been blessed with extended families, a circle of close neighbors, a tight group of like-minded thinkers and doers. For many, lacking close family, social, religious ties, we are in need of establishing our own community, finding our own tribe, and reaching out to those who are in even greater need than us, as chef Lee eloquently describes.