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Community Community
    by Philip Gulley

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    When I was in the fourth grade, I was offered a job as a paper boy. It didn’t pay much money, but I knew having a job would build my character so I took it, good character being important to fourth-graders. My lessons started the first day on the job. A customer paying his bill asked me if I wanted a tip, and I said, “Sure.” He said, “Stay away from wild women.”

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    One of my customers was a lady named Mrs. Stanley. She was a widow and not prone to wild living, so I took to lingering on her front porch during my rounds. She’d watch for me to come down her street, and by the time I’d pedaled up to her house, there’d be a slushy bottle of Coke waiting for me. I’d sit and drink while she talked. That was our understanding — I drank, she talked.

    The widow Stanley talked mostly about her dead husband, Roger. “Roger and I went grocery shopping this morning over to the IGA,” she’d say. The first time she said that, the Coke went up my nose. That was back in the days when Coke going up your nose wasn’t a crime, just a mite uncomfortable.

    Went home and told my father about Mrs. Stanley and how she talked as if Mr. Stanley were still alive. Dad said she was probably lonely, and that maybe I just ought to sit and listen and nod my head and smile, and maybe she’d work it out of her system. So that’s what I did. I figured this was where the character-building came into play. Turned out Dad was right. After a few summers, she seemed content to leave her husband over at the South Cemetery.

    Nowadays, we’d send Mrs. Stanley to a psychiatrist. But all she had back then was a front porch rocker and her paper boy’s ear, which turned out to be enough.

Her husband was gone, but life went on.
    I quit my paper route after her healing. Moved on to the lucrative business of lawn mowing. Didn’t see the widow Stanley for several years. Then we crossed paths up at the Christian Church’s annual fund-raiser dinner. She was standing behind the steam table spooning out mashed potatoes and looking radiant. Four years before she’d had to bribe her paper boy with a Coke to have someone to talk with; now she had friends brimming over. Her husband was gone, but life went on. She had her community and was luminous with love.

    Community is a beautiful thing; sometimes it even heals us and makes us better than we would otherwise be.

    I live in the city now My front porch is a concrete slab. And my paper boy is a lady named Edna with three kids and a twelve-year-old Honda. Every day she asks me how I’m doing. When I don’t say “fine,” she sticks around long enough to find out why She’s such a nice lady that sometimes I act as if I have a problem, just so she’ll tarry. She’s lived in the city all her life, but she knows about community too.

    Community isn’t so much a locale as it is a state of mind. You find it whenever folks ask how you’re doing because they care, and not because they’re getting paid to inquire.

    Two thousand years ago, a church elder named Peter wrote the recipe for community “Above all else,” he wrote, “hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). That means when you love a person, you occasionally have to turn a blind eye toward their shortcomings. Kind of like what my dad told me about the widow Stanley. Sometimes it’s better to nod your head and smile.

    Psychiatrists call that “enabling denial,” but back when I delivered papers, we called it “compassion.”

From the book Front Porch Tales, by Philip Gulley. © 1997 by Multnomah Pub., used by permission.

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Related Heartlight Resources:
A Taste of Home
(dozens of articles on community)
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Front Porch Tales

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About the Author...
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor who ministers in Indianapolis. He is married and has two preschool sons. In addition to pastoring and writing, Gulley enjoys spending Sunday afternoons in his hometown.

Title: "Community"
Author: Philip Gulley
Publication Date: January 4, 2001



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HEARTLIGHT® Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills Church of Christ. Edited by Phil Ware and Paul Lee, assisted by Roberto Gelleni and Ben Steed. Frank Cloutier is Executive Director.
From the book Front Porch Tales, by Philip Gulley. © 1997 by Multnomah Pub., Used by permission.
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