Physical distancing doesn’t mean losing sense of community

Chaplain (Maj.) Roland Reitz
88th Air Base Wing Chaplain’s Office
Chaplain (Maj.) Roland Reitz 88th Air Base Wing Chaplain’s Office

A topic on most people’s minds lately is: When will we get back to pre-pandemic normal and be able to physically reconnect with our social groups and friends? It has definitely been on my mind as a leader, chaplain and friend.

My lifelong good friend Kevin recently earned his Class D license in skydiving. In short, it means he jumps out of airplanes far more than seems reasonable. Furthermore, he does it for fun.

In describing jumping out of airplanes, he says it is an almost-spiritual experience, and when one catches a stream of air, it’s like being suspended by the hand of God. Kevin quickly follows that up by reminding his listeners he is the least-religious person in the world.

Yet he has found in skydiving both an activity that enhances his resilience and a supportive community. These are crucial tools to managing his multiple sclerosis.

Finding and being part of a community can be a challenge, even in times where gathering sizes are unlimited and physical distancing is not the buzzword. But a 2013 Rand Study also identifies community as vital to resiliency and overall well-being. The past year, which for me included a deployment, has prompted me to think about the importance of community, what it looks like and how one finds community.

Communities that contribute to resiliency and well-being generally share common values. In skydiving communities, those values include that it’s a good, normal and rewarding activity. One macro-community value in the United States is a belief in democracy. Other communities have shared values such as building “strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter,” a value expressed on Habitat for Humanity’s homepage.

These values frequently are expressed in mission and vision statements. For a community to contribute to one’s well-being, it is important the community have a positive purpose, and provide the hope of a better future. Communities that contribute to well-being encourage and support each other and contribute in positive ways to the larger society.

Finding community can be challenging. But we know what to look for.

We look for a community that fosters relationships of hope. We look for communities that have positive, shared values. We look for communities that have meaning and purpose larger than themselves that we can become part of. We look for communities that openly demonstrate goodness to other members and the larger society. We look for communities that encourage one another.

Communities also often foster the development of ideas, personal growth and expanding one’s worldview. These communities are as diverse as the people who connect with them.

They include faith organizations, environmental and recovery-support groups, service organizations, sports and skydiving clubs. What these groups provide for the individual is resilience and well-being.

Sure, it’s challenging to find these groups, even in the best of times. Yet finding community is critical. It can start with an internet search or conversation with a friend.

Having a supportive community back home was important during deployment. Having a great team deployed was also vital. Being part of the larger Air Force community is an essential part of my personal, professional and educational journey.

Whether it’s jumping out of airplanes, or building houses, or something else entirely, we find community as we reach out in the physical and virtual world to build relationships and become part of something larger than ourselves to serve others.

In turn, we build our own resiliency and well-being. I want that to be part of my 2021.