The December sky was gray and overcast. A stiff northwest wind stung my face as I walked, forcing me to lean forward. Its relentless bite challenged me to increase my pace.
Earlier this summer, I rediscovered the simple joy and physical refreshment offered by a fast-paced forty-two-minute, three-mile trek which I practiced throughout my ten-week sabbatical. Now post-sabbatical, I try hard to incorporate this discipline in my daily life.
As a creature of habit, I find myself walking the same route. The road is predictably quiet with exception of an occasional car, bicycle, or buggy. The scenery surrounding me captures the seasonal beauty of Lancaster County in every way.
Without fail and on cue, my phone comes to life as I archive each mile. My phone gets in my face. It begins barking out commands like a drill sergeant. Without apology, this commanding voice shouts out my time, pace, and speed as each mile is meticulously recorded. The voice presses me, “Step it up and stay the course!”
My routine takes me past a two-room schoolhouse. White paint envelopes the exterior of the schoolhouse. On the back corner of the yard, two outhouses quietly grace the schoolhouse in their own unique manner. A brass bell, housed in a bell tower perched on the schoolhouse roof, remains at the ready awaiting the teacher to pull its rope.
Most days, the schoolhouse yard is quiet with inactivity as my walk typically occurs before school begins or after school is dismissed. This morning, however, students zipped by me on bicycle, scooter, or open carriage as I approached the school. Their cheeks, red from the crisp air, peeked out from the knitted scarves wrapped around their faces.
Despite the frigid temperature, students were playing in schoolyard ambitiously redeeming the minutes before school would begin. I smiled and waved to three very young girls, likely first grade students. They giggled shyly, looking at one another as if for approval, then cautiously waved back to me. They were delightfully happy, chattering and laughing as they took turns pushing one another on the swing set. Other young students busied themselves on two tired-looking wooden seesaws adjacent to the swing set. The older children, both boys and girls, were playing a quick game of kickball.
Just then, the schoolhouse bell came to life. Its ring, tolling its hearers that classes were to begin. The schoolyard quickly emptied of all activity as the students entered the schoolhouse. A wisp of smoke exiting the chimney caught my nostrils as it was captured by the stiff wind. The aroma confirmed a coal stove was hard at work creating a cozy study space as it welcomed the chilled children into its warmth.
I found myself reflecting on what I had observed. The modern-day reality stirred a nostalgic throwback of yesteryear within me.
Life for these children appeared refreshingly uncomplicated. Life seemed so very innocent.
The image of a pot belly stove and its warmth stood in stark contrast to the cold wind biting my face. Despite my aggressive pace, the wind cut, chilling me to the bone.
I noted an ache in my spirit which longed for such simplicity and innocence.
Just the day before, I participated in a discussion which was anything but simple. Child-like innocence was absent from the agenda.
The meeting focused around our community needs. Words such as violence, homelessness, truancy, poverty, mental illness, and addiction were frequented repeatedly throughout the discussion.
The trauma such words create for children living among such realities is rarely visible—yet is statistically proven again and again. Yes, even among our pristine Lancaster County neighborhood.
I found it difficult to reconcile the simplicity and innocence of the schoolyard alongside such statistics. The realities of yesterday’s conversation stung like a harsh cold wind battering an exposed face.
Gray skies, a cold stiff wind, chilled to the bone…walking alone.
Simplicity, innocence, the warmth created by a pot-belly stove…and the community gathered around it.
Huge contrasts indeed.
I am most grateful the greater ELANCO community is well aware and engaged in addressing these difficult statistics of our community. Sadly, much can be easily dismissed because its reality is often not visible. Serving on the board of CrossNet Ministries continually awakens me to the cold harsh facts which blow among our neighborhood.
This image of simplicity and innocence as told through children on a swing set, a two-room schoolhouse, and the warmth of pot-belly stove lingered with me.
Perhaps, this longing for simplicity and innocence within my spirit is idealistic.
I am not naïve enough to romanticize or sentimentalize a school yard observation as the answer to the need of our culture. But, there is something here.
What I observed in the school yard is community.
One of the greatest needs of our culture is the need for community.
A place to belong.
A safe place.
My Anabaptist faith traces its roots through a precious Mennonite heritage and witness. My own story is weaved among the plain community of those playing in the school yard. For this I am most grateful.
What am I suggesting? For persons who are blessed to know what community is, community can be so easily assumed and underappreciated.
Community…just is…in EVERYTHING one does…community is there…community is present.
However, for those who never experienced community, the absence of this gift and the stability it offers by providing a place to belong, is like walking in a cold stiff wind…alone.
The very gift of community which I so easily take for granted, is the greatest need of our culture.
The church IS community!
The greatest need of our culture IS our greatest moment.
This is our moment to do more of what we are already doing, AND, to do more of what we are really good at. Being community.
Being community—to those who are walking in the cold stiff wind alone.
Let’s fire up the stove.
Let’s go fetch in another bucket of coal.
Let’s add another chair to the circle around the stove.
It is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. James 2:8-9