11/20/2010

With Gratitude for Kapwa

Shared stories with a good friend today about the authors I've met over the years and the ones who are on my radar now. She pointed out to me that they were all part of my community, that they were not separate from me but that I was among them. This sorta boggled my mind since many, if not all are people I admire and learn so much from. She wisely pointed out the possibility that they admired and learned something from me. Still working on that concept.

But I also know she's right, that when we see ourselves in others or see others within ourselves, then that is Kapwa. Community. Mutual positive regard. Respect. Love. Honor. All those things happen because of a resonance we have toward someone else, and for Kapwa, it's a positive resonance, an uplifting resonance that enriches the lives of both people.

After our leisurely breakfast, my friend dropped me off in Fairhaven, a small neighborhood on the south side of Bellingham. I'd volunteered to help put up decorations there as part of a service project set up by the company I work for. The service project came from me poking around to discover the details of a discount program that the Fairhaven Merchant Association had. The company I work for doesn't technically provide anything a merchant or retailer would want, really, but they allowed us to participate in the program if we agreed to help with projects for the neighborhood. So, that's why I was up on a ladder for awhile this afternoon, apologizing to sleeping trees as we wound strings of white lights through their branches.

The temperature dropped overnight and there was snow and ice on the sidewalks where we parked our ladders. I worked with the group about two hours and felt a part of the community of Fairhaven. I'd always enjoyed the lights that the merchants put up for the season and so getting to know how much work it took to get the lights up made me even more grateful for their effort.

The neighborhood wasn't overly crowded but there was a steady stream of visitors getting out and around despite the snow. The shops looked pretty busy which, considering the economics these days, was a really good thing to see. A few stopped and watched us but for the most part, we hooked up power, clicked outlets together to connect the strings of lights and climbed ladders.

At one point, we weren't sure where we were going to draw the power for the lights. Many of the businesses had outside outlets for lighting, and our organizer was familiar with all the spots. One business, though, was new, not even open yet and the owner was very reluctant to allow the lights to be hooked into his outside outlet. He was planning a renovation to the exterior of his new shop and thought the lighting would interfere with the work. We were stymied and searched for another outlet while he went on to explain that he didn't want to pay for the increase in electricity. He asked if we could chip in on the cost, but we're volunteers and couldn't do that.

There was a distinct shift in the energy of the conversation. It went from community concern to individual concern very quickly. Our organizer pointed out all the other merchants who provided power for the lighting and noted that it made things more festive for customers. The new shop owner remained reluctant, saying that his shop wasn't likely to be open by Christmas. We couldn't make him agree and so, we moved up the street and thankfully found a different outlet.

The wind started coming up while we worked and it was the coldest it had been all day. I worked with the organizer, him up on the ladder, me running back and forth between the box of lights and the ladder. My two co-workers had a similar arrangement and they worked on stringing lights uphill, while we worked downhill. As we worked, I realized how much I enjoy being in Fairhaven, how it works very hard to be unique and the merchants are a close knit group. I know at one point the city needed to do repairs on the main street of the neighborhood and the plan included changing the parking slots. At one point it looked like the number of new slots would be fewer than the number previous and didn't solve the problem of congestion along the street due to the parked cars. So the merchants got together and figured out a new way to fix the road and create more parking. That's a kind of Kapwa, working together for the mutual good of all.

We were just about done with our light stringing when a merchant came out of her shop with a tray of hot cocoas for us. "I've been watching you work all afternoon," she said. "Thank you." We were all very surprised but grateful for the warmth. Shoppers came by to thank us too, some mentioning that they loved the lights just like I do. That's a kind of Kapwa too, recognizing the gifts that others give freely without any regard for reward. The work is its own reward, but the community steps up with gratitude.

I hope the new merchant can see the community that's there in Fairhaven, not just the chance to make a new business go during difficult times. I hope he gets to know the other merchants and slowly starts learning the names of his customers. I hope he'll tell people about the cool kids toys our organizer sells in his shop and the great place down the street to get a barber's cut. I hope he's kind to the buskers who ply their talent on the street corners nearby and I hope mostly that he feels as much a part of the community as he gains from being in such a strong community.

And I hope I never forget to be grateful for the things that are done to make the place I live in just a little more liveable, that hands and hearts go into creating strong communities, and that sharing stories is the best community glue there is.