May 1864. Lt Colonel Charles Lyon Chandler led the 57th Infantry of the Union army at the Battle of North Anna River. He and his men were over taken, and Lt Colonel Chandler was mortally wounded on the battlefield. The commanding officer of the Confederate Army had him brought to his own tent and stayed with him as he died. This show of respect was not unheard of in military history. What was unusual was that the Confederate officer then had all of Lt Colonel Chandler’s personal effects and the location of his grave sent to his mother, so that he could be reburied after the War.
Lt Colonel Chandler was my great great uncle. When I told this story to a modern-day sutler (a person who sells provisions to soldiers) in Gettysburg, one theory they suggested was that both of these men were Masons, and shared a community that cut through wartime rules of exclusion. A clue in either man’s obituary might announce the death of a “Worthy Brother”, a reference to let the community of Masons know that one of their own had passed.
I will probably never prove this theory of Masonic Brotherhood. The point is that humans are social animals and we seek community. We use community to get us into war — us against them. We cling to community when we need comfort and safe haven, even when we have created the danger by making up reasons to pit us against them.
Community comes in all shapes and sizes, and gives us support through any of the challenges we face in life.
A dear friend of mine, Sue Thomson, was a Frederick County girl, born and raised. She died this past September and at her Celebration of Life I learned a lot more about her impact on our community. Sue graduated from Walkersville High School, in Walkersville, MD, and became a nurse, specializing in IV services. Several people spoke about her and how they knew Sue through the 1980s and 90s. The single theme that came through every story was that Sue was always interested in other people, where they were from, what was important to them. In the last weeks of her life she was at a rehab facility recovering from a fall. As relayed at her Celebration of Life, the first time Sue arrived at the dining hall of the rehab center it was silent. No one was talking to each other. So many hurting and healing people and no conversation, no community.
Well, Sue said, “I wasn’t having that!” She started a conversation with the people at her table, and the room lit up from there. Like me, you have the personal and unique power to build community.
Our 2022 election, all the lead up and then the national result of an almost 50/50 split of campaign philosophies, shows a country halfway separated. The flip side is a country trying to come together, meet in the middle and find our American Community.
Small factions have been screaming the loudest that everything is rigged — elections, economies, social norms. For the last six years the public discourse has been one theory after another about secret groups plotting to control everything, each scenario bigger than the last. Nobody has that much time on their hands to rig everything.
As I write this, our shared Thanksgiving tradition and our varied mid-winter holiday traditions are coming and we miss each other. How we look at each other and build community is a conscious choice.
After a sweeping event such as a pandemic, humans move forward into a new normal. We had two years of compartmentalized living. There is opportunity now to create the new normal before it is created for us. That can mean practical changes, inventions created because of the challenge. Masks for reducing the spread of viruses were an easy, practical solution during a crisis. Mandates made a lot of people angry, and allowed others to feel they were part of a team effort to find solutions. In our new normal, masks may not be an everyday thing, but I’m now a believer in what my friends with allergies have told me for years. “Wearing a mask outside in hay fever season makes a difference.” They were right, it does. We learned a lot about the benefits and limits for shared versus individual health risks.
Living with social distancing for work and play brought out some options and contrasts in daily life that we would not have explored. Working from home, rather than a relentless weekday commute showed where flexible work locations made a difference. It doesn’t really change human nature, but changes in lifestyle can freshen things up. Lots of variables being tossed up in the air to see where they would land, proved one thing over and over. We need community. Staying in our safety bubbles made each of us a captive audience. For some, captive to their own fears, for others forced listening to the fears of those close by. And, let’s be real, some of us enjoyed a quiet time in our own home.
If we are to have balance in our towns, counties and country, we need multiple points of view in government. If we act as though we are not part of the American community we get a narrow slice of the whole. Each one of us faces challenges in life. Not all challenges are visible. Sue understood this and met people with an initial, unconditional acceptance. The details of personality and common interests could be sorted out later.
We can choose how we embrace our community. Like factions that exclude others and keep their members secret, shhh don’t tell. Or like Sue Thomson who saw community everywhere.
I know who inspires me.
Thank you for reading my story
In my day job, I restore family photographs. Each family story shows the importance of learning history and sharing stories. On Medium, I write about our human nature, my experiences, and episodes in our collective story. Part of my story is that I am a founding board member of Kitsune, Inc., 501c3 non-profit. We work on creative solutions for independent living for adults with developmental disabilities, but without an intellectual disability — our fellow citizens who fall through the cracks in our social safety net.
Your participation supports this work too. Please Follow me here on Medium, and see my work at ChandlerDesignsLimited.com.