Recently, I volunteered to teach art to people who are suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. In several ways, that was an eye-opening experience. Most of the students had never drawn or painted before, and I was not teaching a group of true artists. The ones who had drawn before were limited by the effects of Parkinson’s. In a nutshell, I was teaching art to a group of people who could not succeed by the standard that I had understood before that time, and yet, the program was a success. Everyone, including me, benefitted. The greatest benefit was the building of a community.

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One day, I stood back and watched the interaction of the students, as they were painting. They were laughing and making constructive suggestions for each other and praising each other’s efforts. For a few minutes each week, my students who had Parkinson’s were removed from their disease and they moved into a more supportive and happier place. They moved into a brighter and more hopeful community.

I did some research and saw a great article that assures us of the importance of community. The article is primarily calling people to the action of volunteering; but it does offer insight into the importance of community–the result of peoples’ coming together, in a positive way.  I’d like to share that:

A Sense of Community: Increase Your Joy…

“In today’s light-speed, electronically connected world, we are bombarded daily by social media, text messages, email, voice mail, snail mail, tweets, event invitations, and somewhere among those, we try to find a little mental down time to keep our sanity.

“How is it, that with all this social and personal interaction going on, so many of us are experiencing a palpable emptiness and lack of connection that is hard to pinpoint? …

“It’s logical that community connection and the feeling of giving back are essential ingredients in our everyday sense of joy and well-being. It’s also probably safe to say that human beings have a natural instinct, even a need, to help one another. But,

…with busy work schedules, home life, and the convenience of social media to keep us “posted” on what our friends, acquaintances, and even our frenemies are up to, we are fooling ourselves into thinking that we have enough social and community connection in our lives, when the truth for most of us is that we’re sorely lacking.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristi-blicharski/community-service-in-los-angeles_b_859589.htm

This year, I am teaching two classes at my library. I am paid a small amount to teach those classes, but the money isn’t what I’d normally expect. The pay is something else entirely. Through teaching both of those classes, I have found myself in two other communities.

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One of the classes that I teach now began as a memoir writing class, but it has evolved into more of a writing group than a class, and the camaraderie in that assembly is almost like group therapy. Every member of the group shares what they have written during the week, and afterward, everyone else comments and relates to each other.  Everyone, including me, is uplifted. During this past week, one of the member’s mother died, and the member called me. The only way that I know this person is through the writing group, but somehow, she felt close enough to me that she wanted to contact me about something painful that was happening in her personal life. When we become members of communities, we find people who care.

Image result for laura ingalls wilder cookbookThe other class that I am teaching is the Life and Writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Part of my own writing is memoir, and I am exploring the way that my own family lived during the frontier period of history. My reading and preparation for the Wilder class have enriched my understanding of life in the late 1800s, and that is part of my pay for teaching that class. Another part of my pay is sharing and learning from the other people in the group.

I have especially loved learning about the foods that people cooked on the frontier, and since I grew up in the southern part of the Midwest, my own family cooked many of the same foods as the Wilders did. Thanksgiving is coming soon, and I no longer live in either the South or the Midwest. People eat differently in the Northeast than they do in the South, and I become especially aware of that fact during the holidays.

People in the North eat stuffing with their turkeys. People in the South eat cornbread dressing with their turkeys. In fact, people in the South eat a lot of foods that are prepared with corn meal, and that is not true in the North.

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Thanksgiving Across the Lake – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

I live a thousand miles away from my own family now, and during previous holidays, I have felt very lonely for my family and for my traditions. Last fall, I painted the above scene on Thanksgiving Day. I felt that everyone but me was somewhere else, having fun–they were across the lake, where life was bright and cheerful and merry. This year, I have decided to prepare a big, Southern Thanksgiving meal for all of the people that I am teaching now. These people have become my family away from family, and this year, I am bringing the light and the happiness to my side of the lake.

Before I began teaching these classes at the library and before I found new communities for myself, I had no one to share my Southern Cornbread Dressing and Chicken and Dumplings, but this year I do. Now, I have a new family in the North, and I found that family because I gave of myself and my time. For the first time in my life, I am understanding the cliché expression, “It is more blessed to give than receive.”

 ©Jacki Kellum October 22, 2016

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