The Vashon Loop has a fun series called, “What Brought You to the Island?” Such arrival stories often include surprising and unique details, but there is also a common thread – a desire for community.
What is community? Is it the mere presence of other human beings? Is it the roads, mailboxes, parks, and stores? Is it familiar faces and shared history? Not really. One can have all of these things and still be in search of community, because community is not a tangible object. It is a feeling, and that feeling is rooted in trust.
It seems that, to find community, we must solve the riddle of trust. Defining trust. Having trust. Building trust. Keeping trust. Feeling trust. When we have these things, togetherness becomes easier and we become a community.
Here’s a short list of traditional Vashon-Maury Island community values: (1) We respect one another and honor our differences; (2) we value myriad viewpoints, preferences, lifestyle choices, and backgrounds; (3) we love and care for nature; (4) we commit to community projects and collaborations; and (5) we support one another in hard times.
This summer, Vashon Islanders resumed their enjoyment of community. We danced in the park, attended artistic performances, hugged and shook hands, smiled and laughed together. Once again, we are singing, working on projects and attending public events. After two and a half years, it almost feels like normal. But for many of us, it’s not.
Since March of 2020, normal has been crumbling out from under us. And despite the sweet, summery scent of recreation and frivolity, our foundation remains deeply damaged. With the lockdown, and especially with the mandates enacted in fall 2021, Islanders have felt angry and betrayed by one another.
Some felt vehement that we should all do the same thing, to safeguard our mutual health. Other Islanders, while exploring the issue, came up with divergent ideas for how best to respond, while also keeping individuals and the community in mind. Yet, this was not accepted. How could a community that embraces diversity not accept and encourage different avenues to safeguard health? Then, in late 2021, new mandates took effect in Washington State that left some Islanders unemployable, ostracized and even publicly shamed. On Vashon, we accepted this invitation to divide.
Trust has been broken. For everyone. We all have legitimate reasons to feel betrayed or have continued concerns that our community might not be there for us when stresses resume. What can we as a community do to heal? How do we rebuild the bridges that were burned, and restore our community’s wholeness on a deep level? And how do we prepare to decline the invitation to divide the next time it comes?
Honesty, humility, admission of wrongs committed, forgiveness requested, and forgiveness given are well-known principles that we teach our children, and are a good place to start. We know what we need to do: Listen to and honestly consider others’ perspectives, imagine ourselves in their shoes with their concerns, take personal responsibility when we may have harmed someone, and so on. We can renew our commitment to living these principles with one another.
We can also look to times when we worked together despite adverse circumstances. In 2020, #MasksForVashon, an all-volunteer organization produced over 10,000 masks for Islanders, free of charge. This was a project that built trust, and its voluntary nature was why it was successful. When you talk with those in the #MasksForVashon project, all of them feel good about their participation and the product. This was a true expression of our community and its strength during a deeply uncertain time. When we make our own choices and invent ways to respond that are a match to our unique community, magic happens, and we all thrive.
As we enter the quiet of the year, let’s take time to reflect and prepare. Let us ask ourselves how we might creatively accommodate our diversity going forward, and how we might mindfully rebuild those bridges. Our traditional Vashon values are our treasure. Let’s shelter these values and do our best to live them. In the years to come, these values, combined with our decision to trust in one another, are what will maintain our community and its vibrancy, and truly keep us safe.