From time to time, we find ourselves called to form temporary communities. A stay in the hospital, the pilgrimage to an area of conflict, an occasional weekend reunion with one's extended familythese exceptional times present opportunities for true community, though we may miss seeing them as such. They surely require of us many of the same skills demanded by the more ordinary experiences of community.
In reflecting here on these occasional communities, we do not mean to include the brief exchanges of "I'm OK, you're OK." These are not the stuff of community. Rather, this meditation is about the intense life situations, which, though brief, draw us into true community. They are the building blocks of community just as surely as are the longer-term commitments to a stable and intentional group striving to achieve a purposeful communal life.
These occasional communities demand much of the best that is in us. Take the hospital stay, for example. We heard once of two men in a suburban hospital on the eve of tests to determine the extent of their respective coronary heart disease. One of them was beside himself at the possibility that the next day's examinations would show a potentially crippling and life-threatening condition. The other, faced with the same bleak prospects, was able to reach out to the first and help him somewhat overcome the near-paralyzing fear he felt. This dynamic between them resulted in a communal bond that carried over to the day of the tests, the tension-filled moments when the results came, and the process of each getting on with his life in the new and limiting circumstances of heart trouble.