The concept of community is one that I think about a lot. Everywhere I live, I try to observe the community around me, try to figure out what works and what doesn't. Where there are strong communities, I try to figure out why. Where a community is weak or non-existent, I try to figure out why.
I've learned a lot about community in Oregon, both positive and negative. I have been part of an absolutely awesome, though ephemeral, community of friends. I have also been hurt by multiple closed-off, self-centered people. In fact, one of the biggest things that I learned is that quite often, the very people who claim to be most accepting of others are in fact the most closed-off. They tolerate everyone but connect with no one. The result is an incredibly superficial communty. Anyone can slide right in - but they can also lift right out.
As I've watched genuine communities appear and disappear around me, I've learned that building a community is not solely up to me. Community depends on everyone present. Genuine communities are built only when each person involved independently decides to open themselves up, to have genuine relationships with others. And when it happens, it's magical.
This past week, I got to see a fantastic community sweep through Coos Bay. My family, the truest mainfestation of community I've every observed, was present in full force. My godparents came to my defense. Two close friends drove in from different parts of Oregon for the event. Some people from my church even showed up. It was a beautiful, warm tornado.
One of my favorite things to do - in fact, a huge reason why I travel - is to build bridges across oceans. I love fostering intellectual and cultural exchange, and I love introducing people who would not otherwise have met. It was so fun this week to introduce my brother to an OIMB intern and see them get along. I loved seeing one of my committee members get to know my family. I loved introducing my friends to one another.
I was, quite frankly, overwhelmed with the number of people who put forth the time and resources to attend my defense. I was floored by the abundance and the sincerity of the congratulations I received from all parts of the world. My apartment is filled with gifts from my family and friends. I am in awe of their warm-heartedness and generosity.
This week was more than just the week I got my Ph.D. It was a week that proved to me how immeasurably blessed I am to be surrounded by beautiful, genuine people. Truly, truly, my friends, it is the people in my life who make it worthwhile. I thank God for each and every one of them.