Well today’s reading (as I’m finishing up the first draft of my new book in the Orca Footprints series about love, families, communities, and global cooperation) has been, as they say, the best of times and the worst of times. I was working on a couple of sections about some innovative intergenerational programs and found myself thinking that people, if given half a chance, can be very nice to one another. In one initiative (the Humanitas retirement home in the Netherlands), college students unable to find accommodation live rent-free in a nursing home for seniors. In exchange for their housing, they agree to be ‘good neighbours’ for at least 30 hours per week. There’s a great video here about the project.
Various places, including the Kipling Centre in Toronto, integrate space for a preschool in the same building as a nursing home. Several times a week young children and seniors come together to dance, do crafts, and spend time getting to know each other. The kids learn to accept their grey-haired, slower moving friends at the same time the elderly residents enjoy the lively company of their young dance partners. (If you are wondering about the risks of sniffles and coughs being passed along to frail residents, apparently plenty of hand sanitizer before and after visits goes a long way to keeping everyone healthy).
Reading about those initiatives made my heart swell just as much as the next set of stories made me want to weep and long not to be part of the human race.
Writing about people finding common ground and coming together led to writing about what happens when membership in a group becomes about excluding those who don’t belong. Any conversation about the ways in which ethnicity, race and religion bring people together and allow powerful bonds to form leads naturally (sadly) to the observation that violence and hatred often result from the us vs them mentality stemming from that same sense of belonging that can be so powerfully positive. The genocide in Rwanda, ongoing persecution of Muslims in Burma, Syrian refugees unable to scrape together enough money for paper and bus fare so their children can go to school – there are so many examples of how how badly we treat each other it is hard to decide which would be the ‘best’ examples to include in the book. I don’t want to include any of them, really. I want the children who read this book to think about all the wonderful ways we come together, help each other reach across the divides. Having to write about the dark underbelly of belonging and acknowledge there are times when we lose sight of the fact that we have far more in common than that which divides us is just sad.
I don’t want to watch the videos of the struggling refugee families. I want to focus on the delightful exchanges between the senior and junior residents of that nursing home in the Netherlands (apparently, you are never too old to learn how to play beer pong). But to understand and fully appreciate the grace, dignity and beauty of our better moments as people, we need also to see how dangerous it can be to love our own communities (whether they are based on race, ethnicity, orientation, politics, religion or otherwise) to the exclusion of all others.