Editorial: You can be a builder of communities

Published: 6/6/2019 12:05:25 AM

We have, as Americans, an unalienable right to pursue happiness. Some people, a relative few, find it in lives of near solitude, say in a cabin in the wild, but humans are social animals. We enjoy company and are happiest when part of a community. A Harvard study now in its eighth decade has proven that the old adage is true: Money can’t buy happiness – and neither can fame.

Happiness, the study found, comes from social connections, something people living in close-knit villages whose residents are, on average, the world’s oldest have long known. The more and closer the social connections with family, friends and one’s community, the happier and healthier the study participants were. Some of them are now in their nineties.

Shelves of books have been written about building community and mourning its demise, most famously perhaps Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Single-income families and short commutes to work are much less common in the post-1950s era, and people lack the time to play in leagues, serve on committees, attend fraternal and service club meetings, and otherwise build social capital.

Safe, well-kept parks, playgrounds, public gathering places and events all work to build community. They allow people to meet and form connections, but it helps if there’s a human catalyst. Today, we celebrate three such people, fully recognizing that we are leaving scores or perhaps hundreds of others out.

Last month, Monitor staff reported on the town of Warner’s decision to honor a half-century of work, community service and community building by resident Barbara Annis, with a memorial at a roundabout made possible thanks to her efforts. This week, many mourn the loss of restaurateur Greg Makris, whose smile beneath his signature mustache greeted customers at Concord restaurants for four decades. The family’s restaurants, including the lobster house he ran with his brother Jim on Route 106, brought people of all strata together to celebrate fun and food and make connections.

And then we come to Tom Fredenburg, who died late last month after collapsing at his home on Snow Pond. Full disclosure: Tom was a friend of 40 years.

He was a community builder extraordinaire. He gambled his pension to buy the North Main Street building that became Concord’s Homeless Resource Center and the site of a new 40-bed winter shelter. It took a couple of years, but he was paid back. He refused to make a profit on the deal.

Community can be found in many shapes and sizes: a close circle of friends who share the details of life’s pains and joys; a neighborhood whose residents look out for one another; among fellow congregants, members of a profession, players on a team or in a league, or members of a club. Each can become a community. But circles that do not overlap do not build a community that reaches beyond itself.

Fredenburg, at his many bonfires and gatherings, brought the many circles of his life, sports, law, church, activism, oyster farming, music and more together to overlap like Olympic rings or the petals of a flower. In doing so he formed a greater community.

It’s something anyone whose life consists of separate circles can do: Overlap the circles, build broader, stronger communities, pursue happiness.

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