I've been struggling to frame my thoughts on this subject for the last several days. As so often happens, tragedies around me put me into a quagmire of overthinking and a heart aching for the pain of people I might not even know.
The story made national news. Ten people were killed by a flash flood in central Arizona, near the town of Payson.
Payson was our home until last year. Sweet Hubs grew up there, and I lived there for 35 years. When I think of what makes a community special and admirable, it is clear to me that Payson has those qualities. It was a lovely place to grow our family and we lived there very happily.
The people come together to help neighbors and strangers alike. They care for strangers who have been evacuated from their homes. They support neighbors who have huge medical bills. In this particular case, people from Payson helped with the search, brought great support to the searchers and prayed with all their strength. Now they grieve with the survivors and families.
Maybe I am over-generalizing here, but it seems as if being part of your community for a city dweller consists of things like paying your HOA fees and maybe serving on the board, and attending assorted fundraisers to support the museums or organized charities you favor. Being a part of your community in Small Town, America means bringing a covered dish to the bereaved, cookies and Gatorade to forest firefighters, cash to the benefit to support the young family with the stricken child, blankets to your neighbor whose furnace went out and dinner to the elderly neighbor down the way. It is a personal, hands-on approach to helping others. You help them one at a time, as needs arise. It is not the same as donating money to a cause; it is putting your own actual hand out to touch another human being in need.
When you know the people who are affected by some tragedies, I think it opens your heart to hurt for and want to help the strangers who suffer other tragedies. Yes, Payson people (me included) often grumble(d) about the huge influx of summer visitors from the desert, the ones looking to cool off in the pine trees after spending all week in the cactus and asphalt. But let something like this tragedy at Water Wheel happen, and it doesn't matter that these were visitors. Payson people were there, searching, comforting, supporting, waiting, helping in any way they could.
So here we are, the "new neighbors" in rural Montana. I see the same small-town attitude toward community here, and I love that. It's good for my soul to see the generosity and kindness in people. It offsets the headlines by reminding me that people really are good and kind and caring. No, that isn't the kind of story that makes the headlines. It's the story of life. It's the story of community.