Community and Neighbours


On a shelf beside my desk I have a wooden toy boat, an arc, with several pairs of wooden animals.  It was passed down to me from my grandparents.  As a child I was told the story of Noah many times.  I remember hearing how the people of the earth had become wicked, but God could see that Noah was good.  God told Noah that there was going to be a big flood over all the earth and he was given instructions to build an ark.  The ark would protect Noah and his family and two of every creature of the earth.  I was told that all of Noah’s neighbours laughed at him and his sons for building a big boat a long ways from the sea.  I remember how it rained for forty days and forty nights.  When the flood came Noah’s neighbours cried out for him to help them, but he did not.

As a child I was quite troubled by the thought of the rains coming, the water rising and all the people stuck on their rooftops calling for help.  One fall season in my childhood in Vancouver we had a stretch of forty days and forty nights of continuous rain, and I was afraid.  What did the people do that was so wrong?  Was I like them?  Why would God kill all the people except Noah and his family?  Why didn’t Noah’s neighbours believe Noah and build arks of their own?  It is interesting that in the biblical story of Noah in the Hebrew Scriptures, Genesis Chapters 6 through 9, there is no mention of Noah’s neighbours and their reactions to his building the ark.  It was only last week that I actually came across the source of the story about Noah’s neighbours as anecdotes in the Christian Gospels of Matthew 24:37-39 and Luke 17:25-27, but they do not give details about laughter and ridicule and neighbours calling for help.

Over my life I have read many stories about surviving great disasters.  They have often depicted individuals of great fortitude and families that have prepared for what might befall them.  I get quite fascinated by the technical aspects of what tools and resources one might need from the old world and what skills might hold over into the new reality.  I remember years ago how a friend, Randy, described how he would like to feel that he had the skills and knowledge such that he could walk into the forest with just the clothes on his back and return a year later with a crystal clear vessel of glass.

About three years ago I was listening to CBC morning talk show, On The Island, with Host Gregor Craigie.  The subject was earthquake preparedness and the potential flooding with a tsunami.  Several callers described what they had done to be prepared.  One caller described how her family was very well prepared with provisions for several weeks.  In her last couple of sentences she said something in the effect of “if you have not adequately prepared, don’t come to me.”  I found these words very chilling and thought back to my childhood stories of Noah’s neighbours drowning and calling for help. 

On the news we often hear stories about natural disasters or the tragedies of war.  We hear two types of stories, those where communities band together to help each other, and then the reverse, where a fine line is crossed and community dissolves into self serving individuals, looting and stealing, and falling into anarchy.  In the early 1980s I lived next door to my Grandmother.  She told many stories about her life.  Her favorite stories were about the great depression.  Her eyes would sparkle and she would smile when she remembered how neighbours and the community of her church would work together to prepare food, mend clothing, and make sure others were cared for.

We live in a world with an uncertain future.  The issue could be an earthquake, or climate change, or economic collapse, the actual event is not the issue.  The real question is about what actions we will take to prepare for and face the future.  Do we hoard scarce recourses?  Do we build walls around our families for protection?  Do we shut ourselves in an ark and live haunted by the death cries of our neighbours?  I believe it is possible to work together, right now, to nurture a community that will respond to uncertainty with trust in each other.