Border Outpost: Community

Dave Wylie, Special to The County
6 years ago

Yes, it was something my mother said offhandedly, not prompted by any question as to the reason why. She resumed going to Mass after my father died.

I was aware of the arrangement they had made not to interfere with the other’s beliefs or impose those beliefs on us as children. That would prompt a whole series of other events and issues that probably deserve explanation at another time, but for the most part their religious differences would be a matter of choice for us to make at a later time. We, all of us in the family, nevertheless had a strictly moral upbringing or at least I can say I did. I have my father’s stern admonitions, my Uncle John’s King James Bible, and my mother’s example as what I suppose I could call my religious upbringing.

So what is it that I’m after with this item? I suppose it’s an understanding of why my mother returned to going to church. It was what she said about it that both startled and impressed me; she said she belonged to the community and going to Mass was part of that belonging.

There was a gathering after Mass in the basement at the St. David Church Sunday. Several of the women in the parish prepared a traditional meal of chicken stew, ployes, topped off with various desserts. One could walk in whether one attended the Mass or not, deposit whatever donations one felt appropriate (or not, as there was no obligation) and sit down to a delightful repast at one’s leisure.

What impressed me most was a sense of community among the people present. This wasn’t an event like a concert or lecture where one is merely an observer or spectator being there to enjoy the show and little else. People got up from their chairs, milled about and spoke to each other, whether friends or mere acquaintance.

I presume that’s nothing new in the Valley. Most everyone knows the other in some fashion or other. What was different was the distinct absence of ‘portable devices’; those dreadful soul-stealing and attention-grabbing glass plated communication systems that seem to have captured the rapt attention of younger generations.

I make distinctions. Certain functions may be accomplished on a laptop, the device I’m currently using to write this article. But a laptop or a personal computer doesn’t absorb one’s complete attention all the time like an Android or an iPhone or whatever brand. Contrary to what others might think, they are the very death of communication, the shredding of society into solitary individuals talking into plastic rectangles, or amusing themselves by swiping images with a forefinger.

I suppose what disturbs me most is “liking” something or someone on Facebook. It is an insincere, meaningless series of gestures, particularly when it comes to  “friending” others. And tweeting is a form of grandstanding; thoughtless rants designed to agitate the viewer into a particular state of mind. This is an abbreviated form of messaging a dictator would use.

I get agitated just thinking about it.

This is a giant leap to take, but the glue that holds society together is personal and interpersonal contact. I saw that at work Sunday. True, the gathering was mostly of an older generation born well before the advent of these newer forms of communication, but it struck me that they, or should I say ‘we’, are the last of our kind. Whether conscious of it or not, gatherings like this represent the idea of community, of social cohesion and civility.

No, this is certainly not the whole story or perhaps even a large part of it, but it makes me aware of what mattered to my mother. In the end, I suppose, it could be what matters to all of us as a society.

I take a lesson from it.

Dave Wylie’s life and work experience runs the gamut from newspaper editor to carpenter to grant writer to boat builder with lots of other work wedged in-between. Wylie currently is president of a management company that oversees an elderly housing complex and president of the local historical society. He resides in Madawaska.