The front door at this old house has been getting quite a work-out this week. Our daughter was here and there was more comings-and-goings as she re-connected with the historic summer community. It has been a number of years since she has been able to come in the summer and she immediately fell back into the rhythm of play that happens for increasingly shorter windows of time here. So many forces work against families being able to come for two or three months at a time, as was the tradition of the historic summer community up until the 1990s. We can’t afford to stop and play that long any more.
One thing about a long-term, consistent community is that it offers roots in its traditions. Kick-the-can, ghost stories at Tomato Rock, the 4th of July picnic (the Fritos were great; see last week’s post), the annual tennis tournament: all give a sense of groundedness to life. When people are grounded in a tradition and history, they are more free to develop wings. They can explore and create because they aren’t always trying to find a firm foundation on which to base their lives. The thing about the historic summer community here is that everyone is included, newcomers and long-timers, young and old. You can’t say that about a lot of places in society, including church, these days but that is for another post.
We have one more semi-final game in the annual tennis tournament; the championships are tomorrow (after Sunday school, of course). Anyone can sign up to play, pay their $5 entrance fee ($15 if you want a T-shirt), and be assigned a same skill level partner if they need one. The semi-final match I just finished watching involved two boys, one 10 years old and one a teenager (who won) playing against two women, one a teenager and one 40-something adult. It was a close match (first one to win 8 games); all four played well and a large group of young and old alike cheered for each great point or serve.
There is a subtle movement afoot to undermine this historic summer community. Unfortunately, some of the powers that be here think that community is merely people coming to the Dining Hall for breakfast or to the Auditorium for a concert. While that is a very important aspect of Chautauqua, and always has been, people who have never experienced the “people” side of community find it difficult to understand. It even irritates a few. Those of us who grew up in American suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s may remember when kids of all ages “ran in herds” all summer long, creating games that everyone played in. All the adults kept an eye on all the kids: feeding them, putting on band-aids when blood appeared, scolding any and all children for bad behavior when necessary. It really was a village raising its young.
That is what we have here today. The adults who have been coming for a long time, some part of multiple generation lineages, love the freedom the kids have to play freely as much as the kids do. Everyone keeps an eye on everyone else’s children, feeding, comforting, correcting as needed. The kids love it. There is little TV watching or computer useage going on, from what I can see; it is simply too fun to be outside, running around, playing games whose rules change daily. A lot of conflict management skill development happens with those kids.
I had a conversation with a long-time Chautauquan at the picnic yesterday. Both of us told stories around the theme of how other adults in this historic summer community showed young people what it meant to behave, dress appropriately when necessary, have manners, respect elders, and play fairly all in the context of (mostly) unstructured summer fun. He commented that it was in the historic summer community where he interacted with non-parental adults that he learned what it meant to “grow up.” As in all communities, there were good and bad examples of “maturity.” Lessons are learned from both sides of that equation.
What will happen to this historic summer community in the future? I don’t know. Community is like wilderness: if you have never experienced it, you don’t know why it needs protecting. C. S. Lewis once used the example of a child playing in mud in a slum refusing an offer for a holiday at the seashore simply because they had no idea what that meant. Wilderness needs to be protected; people need to be intentional about community but if you have never experienced it, community will seem foreign, messy, hard word. As in all communities, we have our “fruits and nuts.” Not everyone likes everybody else, yet, there is a cohesion, a glue that holds us together.
I would urge each of you to find a community. Commit to sticking with it through thick and thin. Get to know the people in it. Host a picnic, have a game tournament of some kind, be there for each other’s kids. In the long run, it can help everyone win in this game we call life.