The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: romance

Identity – Romancing the Community

communityIt’s Valentine’s Day. Many things to many people, it nevertheless finds a certain commonality in that romance can be as universal as it is secluded and intimate. I’m taking Jane to our favourite restaurant for lunch and then we’re going for a walk through the neighbourhood we love – just the two of us. I feel a certain thrill about it, even hours before our special date.

I hope it isn’t too much of a stretch to believe that people can possess such feelings about their community, their neighbours, their place in the land.  Some are just wired this way. They can’t build a life around themselves for the simple reason that they desire a world greater than themselves.  Put simply: they love the place wherein they live.  For all its flaws and drawbacks, such things can’t seem to still the desire to make it a better place.

In a very real and motivated sense they have a romantic relationship with their community, so much so that it forms a part of their identity.  Just like in all romance, attraction is not an option. Just as our eyes fall on that special someone we desire to spend time with, others view their community through a hue of desire and promise.

The essence of romance isn’t about getting something for yourself, but that of abandon – the giving of oneself because it simply can’t be helped.  It’s very much as Jane Austen wrote in Love and Friendship: “The very first moment I beheld him, my heart was irrevocably gone.” Some view their community in just this way. They grow comfortable in its familiarity and disturbed at its shortcomings. They “ask not” what their community can possibly do for them, but how they might dedicate themselves to better where they live – just as John Kennedy said. Their heart belongs in their community.

In remains true that every community, every city, town, grouping of small farms, possesses an identity greater than the sum total of its parts.  It is from this that intention, action, and social development flow.  Identity isn’t just about who we are, but what is it within us that can make us even better.  Far too much of our individual existences are about what we eat, where we go, whom we date, care for family, love of institutions.  Such things compel us to turn aside and take notice. But when all these have had their influence on us there is yet a broader calling that tugs at our minds and reminds us of our place in the larger context.

As with any relationship, being romantic is arduous work. We have to be willing to fight if a love story is to last.  Many citizens pour their hearts into things that matter to them only to lose the impulse over time due to distraction, lack of response, or just the fatigue of living. Many marriages end up this way.  The relationship between a community and its members can too.  Citizenship is about toil, not just celebration. Collective self-discipline is about dedication, not just delight.  Ultimately our communities must be about passion and not just patterns or habits of living.

In the end, our professions of love for our respective communities will be proved by our actions of compassion, of justice, cooperation and sacrifice.  Should we seek success for ourselves but in the process forget about the progress of our community then our passionate ardour is suspect.  If our goals for ourselves don’t include the aspirations and needs of others in the regions where we live then romance cannot survive.  “The citizen at his or her essence can’t really progress until there is a rising above the narrow confines if individuality to the broader concerns of all humanity.”  Know who said that?  Martin Luther King Jr., and he knew something about fighting for the Dream.

So on this, Valentine’s Day, let’s see if our hearts are big enough to look beyond our romantic inclinations, beyond those closest to us.  C. S. Lewis used to say that romantic love is about looking in at one another whereas friendship is about looking out in the same direction, together.  Do we possess that capacity?  For if we do, love and romance for community will find their proper place in our personal lives.  Must we always give precedence to financial gain and an odd sense of market determinism over the welfare of our neighbours and our broad public values?  This is a political question as much as it is a personal one.

In so many senses we are what we are passionate about.  Romance should ultimately expand our reach – people deeply in love often draw others into their joy.  So here’s to our communities on Valentine’s Day and their ability to enamour us, challenge us, and in the end pull us out of our limited surroundings to a public place of broader passion.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

Humanity Paired

backpacks

Tomorrow the next chapter of the adventure begins. Our life with south Sudan was irrevocably joined together, not by choice but by some kind of human draw.  Our very first trip all those years ago was all about locating slaves and leading them to freedom; ironically, it inevitably became about finding each other.

I have often stated in these blog posts that I have learned to just follow Jane and trust her instincts.  On that very first trip, as I struggled philosophically with the true meaning of modern slavery, Jane was actually out there liberating them.  It was a harrowing trip, but a new kind of awareness emerged in those remarkable days: we each required the other if our individual journeys were to be successful.  The yearning to help humanity in deeper ways together happened on that trip.

Everybody was talking about slavery, debating and moralizing about it. Yet we woke up on that very first morning in Sudan feeling more like Alice in her Wonderland:  “No. No! The adventure first, explanations take such a long time.”  We each had known separately that humanitarianism was worth everything we gave to it, but on that trip we discovered that it was better accomplished through the joining of our own talents and outlooks.  It was, in fact, the romance of humanity. We learned that sometimes reality is a human construct – an illusion, and that truth really exists in those recesses of the human heart that so few people see.

On that trip, with slaves freed, friendships made, and ultimately a future formed, we both understood that real travel only becomes a true adventure when you leave yourself behind and become dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of humanity.

Over the years that romance has only expanded. Along the way there was the blooming of love, more slaves liberated, a long civil war brought to an end, our deepest hopes realized, and three remarkable children that taught us our dreams were not yet complete.

I often wonder at the human penchant for people of material substance to strut their blessings as though they are some kind of brand for success, while the majority of the world’s people stoop beneath the burden of their own responsibilities.  Through the course of my lifetime I have met people so wealthy that whenever they didn’t like what was going on around them – the weather, the economy, politics, jilted love – they hopped on their first-class transport to sunnier climates.  But Sudan has taught us of the sheer nobility of those who refuse to give up even when the world seems to be against them. They fight for their villages, their children, for survival, and even for their country. They are the true nobility of humanity and the vast majority of them live on next to nothing each day.

It’s as Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit:  “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”  “I should think so – in these parts,” came the reply.  “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures.  Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things.  Make you late for dinner.”

Well, Jane has been late for dinner her entire life. She pours herself out for those who have nothing, and deals with the deep humanity of her mate undergoing a serous operation. To touch her is to touch humanity and to feel its expanse – the height and depth, length and breadth of it.

I wish, like all of us, to be effective in life.  But I have learned that the real inspiration of adventure is in meeting people who make me feel like I have done little.  Jane does that to me, as do some of the great figures in history.  Far from discouraging me, they elevate my expectations, teaching me that being fully human is something I can yet still strive for.  In any great romance, each person plays a key part that the other really likes.  I love Jane’s part, but more than that I respect it – deeply, and I always wish to pay deference to it.

Tomorrow we leave home – again.  Yet, as with every other occasion, we will acknowledge that true adventure can’t exist without home – children, work, friends, faith, and community.  If we had no place to return to, we would just be nomads – endlessly travelling with nowhere to land.  It is actually having a home community that permits us to measure ourselves and our growth following our adventures.  Sometimes having compassion for a people far away struggling in slavery, war and depravity is easier than caring for those we have known at home for years.  This is not our wish, and our journeys will only be successful as humanity expands in London as easily as in Sudan.

As a writer, I feel somewhat akin to the observation of Jean-Paul Sartre: “For an occurrence to become an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it.” This is why I write about it, because it’s a narrative worth telling.  Jane and I have discovered that a humanity paired is a powerful thing, in part because of how it draws us together as partners in confronting the world’s pain and injustice. That’s a romance I couldn’t live without.

Note: We return near the end of January and the blogs will resume at that time. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

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