Finding strength in community

During troubled times, we must embrace each other

By Audra Gamble | 7/11/16 7:58pm

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This summer, I am lucky enough to have an internship in one of many Michiganders’ favorite spots--Mackinac Island. I’m still not sure how I got so fortunate to wake up every day and look out over the Straits of Mackinac, but here I am.

For the vast majority of people who visit Mackinac Island, it’s a magical place, right up there with Disney World. They look around and see the horse-drawn carriages, the happy tourists and the fudge the island is so well-known for.

While all of those things are wonderful and, yes, a little magical, that’s certainly not the thing I love most about living on Mackinac Island. You see, while the island fills up every day with thousands of tourists coming off the ferries, there are only 500 people that live here all year.

With such a small community in such a unique place, it’s impossible to be strangers. Every day I walk down Main Street and I can say hello to a dozen or so Mackinac Island residents or summer workers who always seem to have the time to ask me how I’m doing.

When you think about it, that small-town feeling is so quintessentially American. It makes me think of the America my parents grew up in, the one where all the children played together in the streets until dark and everyone looked out for each other.

In the wake of such a vitriolic and violent summer this nation has endured, the strength of community I’ve found on Mackinac Island has been a welcome relief.

For the last few months, Americans have been pulled in every which way by the presidential election cycle, by police violence, by international economic turmoil and for many other reasons. But each of those directions have something in common: Americans are being pulled apart from each other. We have forgotten how to stop in the street and ask each other, truly caring about the answer, how one another is doing.

I’m not naïve enough to think that all of the nation’s many problems can be solved if we all just cared about each other a little more. I know there is serious legislative and reparative work to be done.

But here’s the thing: those things will take time. They will be messy and loud and, if done correctly, unsatisfactory to many. That’s what compromise is.

In times of strife and tragedy, which Americans have seen far too much of this summer, my first feeling is always one of helplessness. I want to act, to help, and yet my hands are empty. I have nothing to give.

That’s not necessarily true, though. I do have kindness. I do have compassion. I do have the ability to share the love I have for my community, whether that community may be in Mackinac Island, Allendale, Orlando, Dallas, or father away.

The beloved television personality Fred Rogers once said when calamity strikes to “look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.”

While I may not have been able to donate blood in Orlando or attend a vigil with the people of Dallas or Istanbul or Baghdad, I can create kindness and togetherness in the community I live in.

It’s not much, and it certainly won’t create world peace, but it’s a start.

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