A sense of community


Several years ago, I was reading a book by James Burke, and he was describing what it takes for a group to be classified as a civilization. Over the years, I’ve given a lot of thought to the concept, and probably have managed to twist it on occasion beyond what you would find historians and other credible sources offering as a definition or explanation of the idea.

Still… I think Burke would be ok for me, at this time, to pass it along to you like this: Civilization status is achieved when a group reaches a point where it no longer takes the complete and undivided efforts of every member in the group to provide the essentials of survival for the group.

Burke, as I recall, focused on food. And that makes sense. Farming. Livestock. Tools. Civilization.

For me… today at least… I’m willing to expand into all of the areas of our survival. Food. Water. Shelter. More. Living.

And it is here where we will make a slight turn, adjust our path, and head into the essay.

Wherever you may live, it likely is in some way a community. Big city community. Small town community. Neighborhood in a town next to a city community. A group.

The trick is, not everyone in a community is working on providing food, making clothing or repairing houses. A community is a unique blend of people, sharing some specialized local offerings, with a familiarity found in relationships and purpose.

What I’ve been wondering about is how civilization… or, more in line with my tangents and thoughts… how communities have been changing. By the moving of time. By the needs of where we live. By tradition. And so on.

I’m often stunned by the lack of bakeries near my house. And that’s been true of the past several places I’ve lived. When I was younger, I knew where the bakeries were. And not just the bakeries, but the different types of bakeries. (These were where to go for the true pizza strips… for the freshest and most delicious cookies and brownies… for special occasion cakes… and so on.) Times have changed. Now the local mega-mart offers most of these and more.

If you live in Buffalo, New York, chances are very good that you have a local government that budgets more for snow removal than those of you that live in Islamorada, Florida, budget for addressing snow removal. It’s where you live.

The Slater Park in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, right now is far from the Slater Park of my youth. (Despite the carousel and places for picnics.) Needs change, generations change, traditions change.

The past few days, I’ve been running errands and considering all sorts of aspects about my neighborhood. I’ve been trying some different roads. I’ve been mixing up my stops at grocery stores to check out items since the ones nearby all carry different brands. I’ve been wondering about trying some new restaurants and looking around for signs and doorways to places as of yet never visited. And…

I still haven’t found a bakery.

Terry and I stopped into a local coffee shop we had never been to previously the other day. We weren’t that impressed. Not likely to go back.

(Ok… that deserves and explanation. So, story time. We stopped in partly because one of our friends heard we had some errands to run, Terry mentioned that we never know where to get a breakfast sandwich for the road, and the friend asked if we had ever been to this place. We hadn’t. Terry was told the coffee was good, and that they had some quick sandwiches. When we arrived, we were picking out bagels and got to talking with girl at the counter about the limited supply available. She told us the bagels come in about once a week and were due in later that day. So… our plastic-wrapped bagels were the remainder of what had likely been sitting there for about a week. Not exactly made-fresh-daily quality. Tasted every bit as if they had been there for three weeks (and not going to change any time soon). Anyway…)

Someone Terry works with gave her a travel cup from that coffee shop. And… because, of course… Terry used it to bring some hot cocoa to work and it kept her drink hot (not warm, it kept it HOT) for a couple of hours. Tremendously good.

Not likely to go back to this neighborhood coffee shop. Quite likely to have a reminder around for years.

(Hot cocoa for the road. Still no bakery.)

It’s more than a bakery though. I recall when in the city where I grew up, a store offered the services of a cobbler. (The idea that your first reaction possibly involved apples or peaches, and not shoes, could explain why this story plays out the way it does.) I knew the place existed, but never paid much attention to it until I found out the owner was the father of someone in my school. And I remember the day years after that discovery that I drove down the road to see the shop was no longer there… I asked my parents and they told me they had heard it went out of business and closed.

Around your house there are likely to be plenty of the usual businesses. A place for pizza. A place for gas. A place selling snow shovels in Buffalo. A place selling diving masks and snorkels in Islamorada. But the unusual businesses are closing their doors. And you can more than see it… you can feel it.

Civilization. It’s when you reach beyond food. Beyond food and water and shelter. Perhaps I can’t explain it in a way that James Burke and historians worldwide will accept, with the technical terminology and accuracy the field requests. Community though… it’s more than civilization.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com