Last Friday morning, I again woke up feeling weighed down with sadness. Though I’ve found my equilibrium after my granddaughter’s move and closing the happiness store, life is full of sorrows. On Thursday evening, a friend and colleague had shared her cancer diagnosis. She was in a state of shock. It’s early, and she may be fine. But my immediate reaction was one I’d rather not write here.
I was accepting of the sadness which seemed a highly appropriate reaction. Yet, I knew I was moving into a day with little room for grief. Here in Maple Corner, Friday marked the beginning of our 50th Annual Fall Foliage Festival, including the annual Variety Show (quite purposefully not called a talent show!).
That meant, I had to hurry to the community center to rehearse with my fellow Bone Builder thespians. Bone Builders is a group open to anyone, though usually only women of “a certain age” show up. We meet twice a week and go through the same routine with weights over and over. And over. And over. Somewhere along the way, to relieve the tedium, the group started to sing while exercising. That led to the inevitable observation, “We should perform in the Variety Show!”
Of course, we all knew all about the “Variety Show.” It’s an annual community tradition, and we’re all about community up here.
Unlike Bone Builders, the Variety Show attracts a wide array of performers — both skilled and … uh … enthusiastic. The youngest performer I remember was a three-year-old who sang the A-B-C song. There have also been skits with highly-localized humor, professional musicians, and even dancing turkeys (one of the highlights of my own Variety Show career).
If you clicked on the dancing turkeys link, you’ll know there was a lot of pressure on me last Friday to shelve my sadness and get serious about the task at hand: practicing our skit, with weights, to a re-written version of “Jacob’s Ladder.” A sample lyric: “Every round goes higher, higher. We are starting to perspire. We are truly feeling fire. Women of Bone Builders.” It was funny! Really — especially the highly expressive acting choices some of made to illustrate perspiring …
Rehearsal made me quite happy, and it’s easy to see why. First, there was plenty of exercise as we went through our routine repeatedly — and even more exercise when the rest of the group arrived for our standard Bone Builders’ workout. Exercise is a sure-fire happiness booster, as is laughter, and there was plenty of that. Plus, we were learning new lyrics, an improvement penned just the night before — learning is always good. Then there was the singing. I have not seen a lot of research on the link between singing and happiness, though I’m sure the research must be out there because I find singing so healing, so transformative. Perhaps the biggest happiness boost came from being in community — first with my fellow Bone Builders, and later that evening, with the broader community.
We were a hit. I don’t think we’re ready for Montpelier, much less Broadway, but we earned laughter and grateful applause from our neighbors. What a high — really, an enormously fun cycle of giving and receiving between audience and performers joined together in celebration of shared community.
The Variety Show was just the start of a very full weekend, which included:
- a “Beggar’s Breakfast” and “Beggar’s Lunch” at the community center with donated labor and food (I was a cashier, my husband baked bread);
- a silent auction (including two of my watercolor clocks;
- an art show featuring a local painter;
- soccer for the younger community members;
- an all-ages contra dance in the barn across the street;
- Octoberfest activities at our local pub, the Whammy Bar;
- a traditional concert in our historic Old West Church;
- high tea at the Adamant Co-op;
- a hike through the town’s forest; and
- a triathalon along our dusty dirt roads — all graced by the gorgeous fall foliage, just slightly past peak.
So here’s where I’m going with all this: despite my choosing “Falling Into Happiness” as the title — an irresistible play on words — this kind of community doesn’t just happen. Like cultivating happiness, sustaining a community takes intention and attention. In a way, we did sort of fall into this town, after visiting a friend who lives here and deciding we wanted to be part of such a vibrant community. But, as soon as we got here, my husband and I rolled up our sleeves and started pitching in. I volunteered for the community center board, he taught after-school chess classes at the local elementary school. And on and on, for both of us.
To be clear, we live in a real community — not a Disney World attraction or a Stepford Wives illusion. There is no shortage of either challenges or sorrows. (Plus, Black Flies, for heaven’s sake!)
I’ve often wondered how Vermont in general, and my little corner of Vermont in particular, developed and maintained such strong communities through the centuries. My theory has to do with the harsh winters, and the inevitable help Vermonters needed to give, and receive from, their neighbors. Maybe it also has to do with the beauty around us, and the reverence most of us feel for our natural world — perhaps that translates to enhanced respect for our neighbors. Certainly, we tend to get outside and play or garden; we are visible to one another.
This I do know: living in a thriving community is a powerful contributor to personal well being. I am happy do my part to keep community ties strong — especially when I get to be a dancing turkey!