I once experienced a caring community -- an experience brought to the fore recently by a sudden loss that has deeply saddened many here in Los Angeles and beyond, myself included.
John Greenwood, president of Coro Southern California, a leadership nonprofit organization, died suddenly on October 11.
John helped to build, and was a vital part of, a caring community not unlike one that nurtured me at a younger age. As a freshman in high school, my brother and I grew plants in a backyard greenhouse and sold them to local nurseries. I joined my brother as a member of the local chapter of Future Farmers of America. We weren’t the club’s high-status members, working as we did on the agricultural side of the equation. But this community of 150 or so boys and girls welcomed us nonetheless.
I was part of that community for all four years of high school. That included the year after my brother graduated, shipped out to Vietnam and died in a charge over a ridgeline that bought his company critical time and probably saved more than the eight lives lost in the battle. Teen-aged farm kids, or most teens for that matter, aren’t inclined to show or say their feelings. And the day after my family received the awful news, when I arrived for my ag class, I sensed that everyone knew what had happened, but no one knew what to say.
My ag teacher, Mr. Bort, summed it up for me privately right after class that bleak morning. “Everyone’s here for you. Don’t worry.” And they were, that day and every day after through the rest of that school year and the next. I sensed their silent comradeship and the care of their quiet circling ‘round without ever a word being spoken. I have since learned to speak words to others I know who have experienced tragic losses. Yet I also know that sometimes all that a caring community can do is circle ‘round and make a bit less lonely life’s loneliest moment and most punishing loss.
I’m thinking about all of this because of John’s passing; our community lost a friend and genuine citizen.Coro trained me in 1979-80 and I’d known John since then. At his memorial service, more than 400 people in silence, song and speeches celebrated John’s 67 years as someone who cared without fanfare, but to quiet and lasting effect, about making his home neighborhood of San Pedro, the city of Los Angeles and, yes, American democracy a better place.
For all of those who testified aloud to John’s goodness, scores of others who knew John live scattered across this city and nation. Right now and as long as she needs them, they stand circled in silent support, everyone one of them here for John’s wife, Caren, his daughter, Liz, and for his large extended family. Don’t worry.
I think of John like I think of my brother, charging into battle, putting his life in this case on the civic line, not the firing line. And, as only John could do, buying the rest of us some time to get democracy and local government right. When we contemplate, in the quiet places salvaged from our busy lives, we can honor John’s life by caring just a bit harder about this precious gift of self-government to which so many devote their lives. Willingly, with passion and intelligence, persevering even when the odds look long.
What’s your experience of caring community? Please share your stories with us below.