The Community Message Board   1 comment

Are We Listening?

November 27, 2015

Childhood memories of growing up in the midwest are relatively clear. My “town” was Bay View; not a city but an identifiable area on Milwaukee’s south side. I knew the neighborhoods, made friends at my elementary school, and actually enjoyed attending the local public high school. Through age 10 I believed that I lived in a happy home, but for the next couple of years I heard and saw that all was not well. My parents divorced when I was 12, and yet life didn’t come to an end. Far from it. It simply evolved, and evolution is, after all, about growth, and about change. Moving around the country—from Milwaukee, to Chicago, to Los Angeles, to New York, to St. Paul—we lived in cities; from one million to ten million. In 2007 we moved to northern California’s Mendocino County, and the town of Gualala, a town smaller than the number of students at Bay View High School.

Moving to the Mendocino coast has been enlightening. It’s small town living, yet with a rainbow of locals identifying as Latino, Black, Asian, Native American, white. All of Mendocino’s coastal communities are identifiable, at least to cartographers and local residents. The communities are not homogeneous, and each remains connected to the others primarily by one highly visible element: California’s Highway One. After eight years living on the Mendocino coast I can say that I know some of our neighbors, have a group of friends, share some likes and dislikes, and feel reasonably connected. I rationalize that what I don’t know is understandable because too many of the people we see and meet are tourists passing through.

In Gualala, like other small communities today, the Post Office IMG_1492remains a place to check in with fellow residents. Not a gathering place per se, but a place where picking up the mail can turn into a brief or extended conversation. This week when I picked up my mail I took time to absorb the items on the message board in the hallway. The header above the board—which I never noticed until today—declares that the Soroptimists erected the bulletin board “to enhance our community communication”. In short: Social media, low-tech style. Consider, then, these low-tech communiques:

• There was the picture of Abbi, the lost 10-year old Abyssinian cat, who IMG_1493went missing in September—two months ago. Beyond the phone number the plaintive message on the flyer was “Please call. He is very missed. Thank you.” The hurt was palpable.

• The local book store had a flyer announcing the appearance next week of an author reading from her book “How To Raise An Adult”. It’s a book on bringing up children. Good luck with that.

• The Coastal Seniors are having a Holiday Faire next month.

• The Community Center is hosting a free Community Thanksgiving Dinner. For three hours you can immerse yourself into community, and it includes a free dinner. Lord knows any one of us can use some community, and all too many people today need a good, free meal.

• The local Chamber Chorus performs next Sunday.

• A little girl, a first grader named Sophia Jean Roach Version 2has T-cell Leukemia and needs financial help. We missed last Saturday’s fundraiser but the local Redwood Credit Union is taking donations. People can get more information at (707) 322-6485. Conservative Americas’s virulent opposition to full health care for all Americans continues to be a mystery to me.

• I found three messages placed—by accident or design—side-by-side: the first asked IMG_1489“What Message Do We Want To Give Our Teens About Marijuana?” The second announced a fundraiser for Meals-on-Wheels titled “5th Annual Martini Madness: Home of the Best Martinis in the World.” The third, “Parents who host Lose the most: Underage Drinking Not A Minor Problem”. Given the topics the placement seems a little ironic.

• Vernon “Cody” Matthews has been missing since June. I followed a link to a Facebook page that confirms Cody is still missing. His family is grieving and hoping.

• There’s a page of tags with a phone number for anyone wishing to host a foreign exchange student.

• A notice in Spanish announced a Suicide Prevention Meeting.

• And then there was a poster I’ve seen all around town. 26-year old Asha Kreimer is still missing. She wasIMG_1486 last seen in Rollerville, just north of Point Arena. The family is trying to raise money to continue the search, and the fundraising page offers this: “Our daughter, sister and friend Asha went missing from Rollerville Cafe in Point Arena, CA on September 21, 2015 around 9:30 am. She was in the middle of a mental health crisis. She did not have ID, money, credit card, phone or any traceable items. She was wearing black skinny jeans and a dark gray hoodie. She was also shoeless.”  I would suggest that Asha seems like a poster child for someone in need, but in fact she is a poster child. And shoeless. And absolutley someone in need.

If we pay attention we can learn something. About ourselves, about our friends, about strangers. About hope. About despair. About hunger. And hurt. And not just by being informed by the message board at the Post Office. We need to listen to what our friends, family, and acquaintances are saying. Let’s take some time to ignore social media and empathize old school. Maybe there’s a community event in which we can actively take part, to a degree or up to the eyeballs. Maybe by listening a little more intently, by stopping to talk for a moment instead of a offering a cursory wave, we can become community instead of being just a part of the population. And maybe one of us can help Cody, Asha, and Abbi find their way home. When they return I’ll guess we may just sleep a little bit better.

David Steffen

An edited version of this post is available in the December issue of The Lighthouse Peddler.

© 2015 David Steffen

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One response to “The Community Message Board

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  1. Nice piece David. Hope all is well.

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