I have been going to fires for ten years. Those early local fires were full of song and music, poetry and deep discussion.

People—bringing forth their amazing gifts. Fun times too, but deep down, I felt a little sad. No sweet voice, no dazzling conversationalist, what gift did I have to share here? Even though I was a regular attendee, I felt a little disconnected.

I can’t say precisely when that changed. But things did shift in a big way for me when I volunteered to help with the Family Reunion, as it was called then. Asked to do some big-picture visioning for the event, I was thrilled to finally have my chance to contribute. I came up with three full pages of grandiose ideas. I thought about it day and night, did research, constructed action boards. Then came the conference call to share my ideas, which I did in a burst of enthusiastic chatter. When I was through, I waited expectantly to hear the reactions. But there was no response, only silence. Then some skirting, some hedging, some generalized comments that made it instantaneously clear I was totally off the mark with my vision. A hot wave of embarrassment flushed through my body. I had been found out. Here I was, a member of the community who didn’t get it. My heart had opened wide to offer this gift and not only wasn’t it received, but my biggest secret was uncovered in the process.

As a sort of consolation, I was recruited to take charge of a much more discrete project for the upcoming Reunion: Beautification of the site. In discussion with hamlet members, a gem of an idea crystallized for this, and I set out again pouring my heart and soul into it, working many late nights crafting materials. A community friend encouraged me to engage the hamlet in this work. I tried, in a limited way and had some success but the reality was—everyone had a task for Reunion and everyone was working hard. How could I ask them to do more?

The day before Reunion finally arrived. The site buzzing with activity and preparations. I arrived with my car packed to the gills with materials. The huge task of beautifying was ahead of me and here I was sans committee to help. How was this to be accomplished?

Somehow, it happened. I met two women who gladly pitched in. One—who actually had experience in the world of merchandise display if you can believe it. Someone was willing to find a huge ladder, others willing to climb it! Others stopped by to offer assistance cutting, taping, hanging. We worked together, adapting as needed, solving together the technical problems that came up. And of course there were many! The work began to develop a rhythm and flow and became the foundation around which we talked and shared our stories. It didn’t feel the chore I had anticipated but felt light and effervescent. Those hours helped me discern the difference between crafting a project on my own and engaging with others to do it. It was that shared experience that gave me the sense of belonging I had been looking for.

Two days later, many of the decorations had been “adjusted’ by the children and the rain had melted anything crepe. But it was all a part of the flow. And in terms of my own flow: Here it is ten years later, and I am still engaging in community and community work. It is the times when we come together and work together that I treasure most, because that’s when my heart sings…and that voice I know is very sweet.

—Joanne Rothstein, Woburn, Massachussetts

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Come to Celebrating Deep Community, the Sacred Fire Community 2012 Reunion, August 10-13.