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October 13, 2010 / Melissa Leeanne


Today, the death of a man in my community was headline news, he was in his late 40’s and his death was unexpected and tragic.  I had met him before, possibly a few times, but I didn’t know him by any stretch of the imagination.  What I do know is that he shared with me similar ideals and mutual friends and a dedication to the community and the environment.  Though I did not know this man, I know of him and his contributions, and many others still will know of his legacy, I suppose one could say.

I have a connection to this man, though indirect, and when I read of his death I felt a sense of loss.  What I feel is but a fraction of what his wife must feel and that breaks my heart a little bit.  I’ve never experienced great loss.

A local artist composed the following haiku, which really moved me.  I want to think of this when I someday experience loss of this magnitude:

What I Want to Believe About Grief

Some days our hearts are

rocks too big to skip.  But tides

will tumble them right.

TSUNAMEE 10-13-10

You can commission a personalized haiku from this artist at her etsy shop.

This man’s death got me contemplating a number of things about life and death and empathy and now community.

The largest city I lived in was maybe 150 thousand residents.  When I was young and lived in Hayward California it was probably home to 25 thousand fewer residents than it is today.  And Heidelberg, Germany, a city I called home more recently, has a population of not quite 150 thousand.  The University of Heidelberg, where I was an international student, has roughly the amount of students that my adopted hometown of Redmond, Oregon has residents – roughly 25 thousand (If you were wondering, the university boasts the higher number).  I guess Salem, Oregon has a population of about 150 thousand as well, though I lived on campus and rarely interacted with “townies.”  Currently, I reside in a city with a population of approximately 30 thousand residents and feel now, more than ever, that I am integrated in a community.

Perhaps it is the size of the city (relatively small); or the efforts I have made to be involved (boards and organizations and clubs, oh my); or that I am voting, tax paying, apartment renting, utilities bill paying, contributing member of society instead of an oblivious child or an angst ridden teen or a transient student.  For going on four years I have lived in the same general neighborhood, worked in the same general neighborhood, walked the same routes, eaten at the same restaurants, sipped coffee at the same cafes, bought clothes at the same boutiques, volunteered with and worked with the same people, attended meetings and events and fundraisers with the same people, and talked with, waved to, and shared ideas with the same people.  I can barely walk to work without running into a friendly face.

For some it could be stifling, but for me it is comforting.  It is wonderful to run into my state representative at brunch (that happened today).  It is comforting to know that I don’t necessarily need to arrange for someone to pick me up at the airport when I return from a trip because I’ll likely know someone on the plane who can give me a ride.  It is pleasantly surprising to discover that the new person I meet is a parent or cousin or child or friend of someone I already know.  It is inspiring to know my US Senator, my state Representative and Senator, my mayor, amazing artists, theatre actors, published authors and rising star poets, promising musicians and my neighbors.

Most of all, I find it comforting that, when I die, some near stranger might read of my death and feel something.  That the effort I put into improving my community might be tangible.  That a person who walked the same morning and evening route might notice I am no longer sharing their path.  That the people I interact with everyday might notice and care that I am not around.  That the people whose lives I touched indirectly might find themselves experiencing this same thought process that I have today.

Is this desire narcissistic or is it a basic human desire to feel worth?

Is the community one knows in a big city comparable to the community one knows in a small town?


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