Between my deadline for this column and its publication in the wee morning hours of Sunday, I will attend a wake at my beloved soccer bar, the British Bulldog. Or maybe it is a memorial, I am not quite sure.
What I do know is that a community will be gathering. A community that included Damian, the person we will be remembering. A community that will be toasting his life, singing his praises and supporting each other. It is a blessing so many of us missed during the pandemic and maybe still gets overlooked too often.
In this case, I did not know Damian well on an individual level. But I did know him. I knew quite a bit about him because of his place in our shared corner of the world.
I knew that he loved soccer and Liverpool in particular. I knew that he liked to talk a lot of trash in his Irish accent and could drive supporters of other clubs to the verge of violence. I also knew that he had a way of putting on his charm, diffusing the anger and creating a new drinking buddy by the end of a match. He knew they shared a passion and place in this world no matter how angry he might make someone.
And that is what helps make a community. That is how I knew someone I never saw except at a soccer bar.
I feel blessed that I have multiple different communities that know me. Within the British Bullog itself, I know I am a part of several. I wrote about them in a column last year. I am every bit at home there as Norm is in Cheers, down to my own call-and-answer with a bartender named Sam.
But I am lucky enough to be a part of several other communities.
My church community struggled through the COVID pandemic, relegated to Zoom services like so many others. But with vaccinations and dwindling case rates, we began to gather again in person. I enjoyed the return so much that I found myself more active than I ever had been before, participating in adult faith education courses and lay leadership meetings.
Receiving communion is not just about taking the bread and wine, it is as much the people we do it with. In fact, ours usually follows “The Peace” greeting when congregants turn to recognize each other. It is a source of pride in our small parish that we take almost as long to greet each other as pass through the communion line. Typically, nearly every member in attendance will greet every other member, often with hugs and outsized smiles along the way.
Sunday mornings frequently see me dash out the church doors to visit another community I cherish. It is a pickup game of soccer in Cranmer Park that I have played in for nearly a decade. We play for hours with pop-up goals, a portable speaker system for music and lots of laughter. When we are done, we often sit talking and catching up long after we have taken off our cleats and packed up our bags.
I have professional communities and political communities and social network communities that I engage regularly. Each brings its own set of interactions and joy. Each helps support me and give me a life-affirming boost. Each knows me, in one way or another.
The crest for Liverpool FC includes the phrase “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Damian did not walk alone because he was a part of a shared community. And I know that I do not walk alone thanks the communities that have accepted me into them.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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