We often long for community, creating it out of thin air if it seems lacking in real life. I’ve spent a great deal of my life being outside of it – first when I grew up in a small town, but not really. Growing up 20 miles outside of a small town means I didn’t have neighbors (though there were the kids from the dairy farm down the road) in the traditional sense. I had friends in school but there weren’t a lot of after-school play dates or sleepovers. Those things had to be carefully planned out and organized.
So most of my life I’ve managed to live just on the edge of community. Feeling like I’ve never quite fit in, never quite knew my neighbors, was never quite there.
Almost a year ago, we bought a house in a quiet little place in Colorado Springs just south of Garden of the Gods. There is joy here. There is beauty. There is silence. And there is community.
The events of the past two weeks, when a wildfire sparked in one of my favorite running spots, was driven by scorching temperatures and fierce winds, came sweeping down on the homes of my friends and fellow neighbors just a few miles to the north of us has shown me community.
Homes and lives were lost – a heartbreaking swath of black and gray now blankets the mountainside. Homes and lives were spared thanks to the dedication of some of the bravest people I will never meet. Firefighters from all over came to Colorado to help: Washington State, Oregon, Montana, North and South Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada. The Hot Shots from California came, chasing down the fire as though, in the words of a Colorado Springs Fire Department official, “they wanted the fire to be afraid of them.”
I know, without a doubt, that I owe these men and women my home. In the early days of the fire they protected the Garden that stands between the fire and my home, and on the 26th of June they stood again between it and the fire that had surged out of Queen’s Canyon and burned buildings not two and a half miles north of my house.
Colorado Springs can be a divisive place. We have polar opposites from the political spectrum at work here. We’re stubborn, sharp-tongued, Westerners out here and if we don’t like the look of you we’ll be sure to let you know.
But we take care of our own, and we know – somehow – when it’s important to lay aside all our differences and come together. I’ve hear people all over the country comment with awe on how swiftly Colorado Springs gathered to help those affected by the fire. It’s something we did without any thought at all. Even in the midst of economic hardship we have people volunteering their time, people donating items and money, people standing ceaselessly on the corners day in and day out to cheer on the firefighters during the twice daily shift changes without fail – even in the pouring (and long-awaited) rain.
This is community. This is Colorado Springs and I am grateful to have the chance to be a part of it.