A Definition of Community
I’m watching as the carnival pulls into town and begins to set up. It’s 3:02 am and the city is asleep. Alone and contemplative under a cloudless sky, I inhale the night’s brisk air. The damp earth beneath me, the shimmering stars above; the juxtaposition of the tellurian world with the infinity of all that exists provides me with perspective. “How many,” I solemnly ponder, “How many people see the world the way I do?”
It’s a consideration that usually finds me alone under the night sky. Only this setting invokes within me an awareness of my insignificance on a galactic scale while simultaneously allowing sublime beauty and considerable relevance to be manifested by the tiniest of the earth’s creatures. Two gently clashing perspectives, one man. But surely not the only man to see the world in this way.
There is a collision of metal on metal somewhere in the darkness below me. By now a whole slew of caravans have arrived and I can make out what look like tent poles being erected a short ways from the base of the hill on which I rest. A micro-society is here establishing itself; a community that brings not only physical structures but also unique values and perspectives, a distinct way of living and understanding the world. I can discern no individuals through the darkness; I perceive only the familiar hum of productive human interaction. A funny thing it is, I ponder to myself, that while we all presently share a similar cognitive awareness of our immediate surroundings, we should grant such different meanings to the features which make up what is ultimately the same and only world.
The quotidian concerns of the carnival folk are relevant to their survival and sustenance; the carnival is their livelihood, it is how they endure… And yet the significance of their endeavors can be diluted near to nothingness within the vastness of the cosmos. Despair is what one finds when one needlessly paints the ultimate truth in sheer blackness. What a gift it is to see our true place in eternity and still find intense meaning in every human gesture.
There is a sudden and unfamiliar roar down at the base of the hill as a generator is engaged and a set of elevated floodlights, suddenly illuminated, obscures the early morning sky. Robbed of one of the foundations of my perspectival contemplations, I wander down into what has quickly grown into a mobile town booming with activity. As I cross the threshold of carnival constructions I stop, startled by the strangeness of my own shadow, an awareness of a whole new contextual structuring of the world easing itself upon me. For 24 hours the carnival folk will erect their world within the world, for 144 hours they will feed their beasts, perform their antics, maintain their structures, pocket their profits and then dismantle their mobile world, only to travel and repeat the process over again.
What is relevant to them is so different from what is relevant to me. Whether they care for literature, for philosophy, for art, I know not. Regardless, their lifestyles are not conducive to such intellectual luxuries; labor and liquor take priority and emphasize the significance of practical concerns within their lives. With my shadow as my companion, I venture onwards into their unfamiliar land, passing by men with callused hands and sweat dripping from their brows as they haul structures foreign to my eyes and laugh amongst themselves as they labor.
Not 60 feet from where I stand, not half an hour prior to this moment, I lay on my back in the dewy grass, meditatively transcending the contextual parameters that give common meaning to so much of social existence. I believe there is a community of individuals like myself, separated by geography but linked by our atypical attributions of meaning to the phenomena that make up the entirety of our world. What is a community if not a unity of individuals who attribute the same kind of meaning to the same things, a group who contextualize of certain features of existence in the same way?
The existentialists, the business men, the musicians, the carnival folk of the world; each group shares some common set of parameters which govern their attribution of meaning within a particular context. Each sees a somewhat different world than the others because what is relevant to one community is not relevant in the same way, if at all, to another. And here I stand amidst the carnival folk as they toil in the synthetic illumination of their floodlights, astounded that though we both live in the same physical world, what my world means to me is ever so different than what theirs means to them.