Serving the community in unexpected ways is good for you and the community.
Part five in a monthly series about positivity, wellness and reconnection.
I’m not sure if it’s COVID-related or if we’re just shut-ins since we’re old now, but it takes real effort to get us out of the house. When we do venture out, we like to walk the Abbey Nature Preserve or sit on Topsail Beach, so nature is the draw — we rarely seek out opportunities to be social. My wife and I both lean toward the introverted side of the spectrum, so maybe our kids are destined to be mole people, too.
But any good therapist or self-help book will say that you need friends, you need to socialize, you need a community and that community needs you right back. Loneliness and isolation can breed depression and anxiety, and research is showing that they can also lead to killers like Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. Even though you may not feel lonely when you Netflix and chill rather than go out to meet friends or participate in a community event, staying home can become a habit and make it even more difficult and foreign when you and the family do leave the compound.
Being with other people and fostering relationships is like taking medicine. And if socialization is medicine, then members of your community are your friendly neighborhood pharmacists. They have what you need. Perhaps you had a knee-jerk negative reaction to that sugary sentiment, especially since we’re all guilty of berating those very community members on Facebook threads and the Next Door app. If you had that reaction, it’s a sure sign that you need some social medicine. (The exercise of embracing the community will work best if you’re able to temporarily switch off your aversion to the opposing sides in your respective causes.)
There are plenty of ways to get involved. Beach sweeps and roadside clean ups. Bringing your non-perishable groceries to the local food pantry. Taking on a full volunteer position if you have the time and passion. Going to a local high school football game can count, too.
Topsail High School football games are like a time machine. You can see your younger self in the bright pimply faces of the restless teenagers running all around, you can feel their own need to fit in and can sympathize with their contrary desires to be cool but also not stand out too much. I can imagine my own kids five years from now, sitting in those same bleachers, ignoring the same teachers who are asking them to please stop throwing baby powder around the student section.
You don’t even need to know any of the players, cheerleaders or members of the marching band.
The surrounding crowd will handle that part for you; they will essentially loan you their energy. Whatever you spend on admissions and concessions goes back into the team funds and booster programs, and there’s nothing like experiencing a home-field touchdown. The excitement rivals any cliffhanger or plot twist from the show you’re missing to be there.
If football is not your thing, there are other opportunities to participate in something bigger than yourself and enjoy a fall event.
This Saturday is the Pumpkin Toss in preparation for Hampstead United Methodist Church’s annual Pumpkin Patch here in Hampstead. As a fundraiser for the youth group at the church, they order pumpkins from the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, and sales of those pumpkins are used to fund mission trips and other activities for the HUMC youth group. The fundraiser also helps the Navajo who grow and harvest the pumpkins, a population that is suffering a nearly 50% unemployment rate.
So, on Saturday, October 2 from 9 am to noon, there will be a pumpkin toss, which is basically a long assembly line of community members and volunteers standing shoulder to shoulder, handing pumpkins down the line, moving them from the truck all the way to each one’s special place on a pallet in the pumpkin patch. A pumpkin toss simply cannot work without volunteers ready to take their place in line. You need the person next to you, and the person beside them, and on and on.
As you stand there, grabbing pumpkin after pumpkin, flexing your biceps and swiveling your abs to give that pumpkin away, only to take another one immediately, you go into a fitness trance in which your body is performing this simple yet remarkable feat automatically. You chat with those around you and bonds are created and you watch the truck slowly empty of pumpkins. When it’s done and you look around at a full pumpkin patch, a warmth (and soreness) creeps in and you high five your community pharmacist and thank them for the medicine.
Community service implies a court-ordered punishment or a way to pad your college application, but we can all be in service of our community. It comes from our innate goodness, and you know it’s in there somewhere. Mix it up a little, get off the compound and go put that goodness on display. I’ll hand you a pumpkin.