Once, while hiking through a North Georgia forest with my wife, we came upon some paw prints that appeared to be from a bear. Further along on our path, a hiker informed us that he had actually spotted a bear and her cubs. While I enjoy watching bears on screens or through glass, I dreaded the thought of encountering an angry bear in person. Having watched enough nature shows about bears, I have become convinced that none of my strength-training from yester-years would have any impact on my odds against a bear. After hiking in fear for a few more minutes my wife and I opted for the peace of mind of being back around other people.
More recently I experienced another fear. On June 4, 2021, my family drove an hour west of Atlanta to skydive.
As the moment neared, I questioned the wisdom of the venture. Accidents happen! I considered the myriads of ways things could go wrong as I would fall to the ground and splatter. With each catastrophic scenario playing on my internal screen, I consoled myself with the thought that at least it would not hurt—or at least not for long. Yet, throughout the process of registering and signing away my rights to sue in case of a mishap, my concerns grew.
As we waited for our turn to board the plane, a hyper-gregarious staff member of the skydiving company, observed that we were first timers. He began sharing his love of skydiving with us. His exuberance was infectious. He invited us outside to watch the previous set of divers land. That experience enabled me to see the possibility of my safe landing.
Eventually, our names were called and it was time to board the plane. About 18 of us boarded what seemed to be an antique aircraft for a three mile ascent. The noise of the twin props and the rattling of the plane, along with the steep climb reignited the concerns I had earlier subsided. Periodically the professional skydivers would crack jokes, tell stories or engage in banter. I noticed that whenever the group was engaged in conversations, my fears lessened. However when we had long periods of silence, my concerns resurfaced. As I experienced the interaction of community, I was less afraid than when I sat in silence. That’s when it hit me; community matters.
Community can both, alleviate or worsen our conditions. Community impacts our lives for better or for worse. Let’s be mindful that community is not neighborhood. The people with whom we interact form our community. This suggests we should be mindful of our community. The right community can calm our fears, encourage our faith and aid in maximizing our dreams. On the flip side, the wrong community can fan our fears, extinguish our hopes and kill our dreams. How often do we consider the impact our communities have on the quality of our lives?
Though afraid, on June 4, 2021, I allowed myself to be hurled from a moving plane at almost three miles above the ground. Tethered to an experienced (actually prize-winning) skydiver, I fell freely for about a minute before he opened the chute and we glided gently back to terra firma. And, in all of that, my main takeaway was that community matters.
I suppose I never would have ventured into skydiving without the influence of community. I experienced moments of calm on the flight up when I experienced community. And, I certainly would not have jumped out of the plane without being securely latched on to an experienced skydiver. We can face our greatest fears when we have the safety of community. We can also have the worst experiences if we are trapped in the wrong community. Therefore, we should pick our community with care. In the words of William D. Longstaff, “Make friends of God’s children.”