There is a Latin word ‘Com’ which means ‘together. You’ll find it in words like companion, common, community, compassion, and even ‘company’. There are a few pages in the dictionary with words that have their roots in this ancient concept of togetherness. As language evolves to serve us, I think it is testimony to how central the connections we have with each other actually are.
I mean, phone a friend in Melbourne this week and they will give you the picture of what the absence of community feels like. It doesn’t feel good. The tyranny of social distance has brought into focus the importance of community, in a way that we perhaps did not appreciate before.
I recently celebrated a birthday. It wasn’t a significant birthday and like everyone else who has celebrated a birthday between March and October, there wasn’t a party or large gathering. Someone asked me what presents I received and the reality was that I hadn’t really wanted or received any this year. If there is anything I need, I usually just grab it and tell my nearest and dearest – this can be for my birthday. It is very practical.
Yet what I did value so much this year was the warm wishes of close friends who simply reached out to say ‘Happy Birthday’. With everything that is going on in the year 2020, those well-wishes from friends, family and colleagues meant so much – and not because it was my birthday – but because it was a catalyst for demonstrating ‘community’.
We started this discussion talking about how the word ‘community’ had a Latin root – and while proper English is important – in the wake of my birthday, I do have an issue with how the word community is expressed in the dictionary.
According to lexicographers, the word community is a noun. Yet I think it is useless as a noun. As a noun, it is cold and objective. It’s not right.
Community, more properly, is a verb and I think that is what my COVID conditioned birthday showed me. Belonging to a community isn’t geography or a label – or skin colour, sexual preference or pay grade.
Community, as I have been reminded, is an experience of togetherness.