We have spent several months discussing Gary McCaleb’s excellent book, “The Gift Of Community,” and have come to the end of this little gem.
It seems fitting to end the series with the end of the book, interestingly written right around the time of September 11, 2001. McCaleb, who is the former “Ronnie Marks” of Abilene, TX, had a neighbor named Brandon, the son of dear friends. Brandon was in NYC on 9/11, and had the following to say about his harrowing, yet comforting experience:
“Others on my floor rushed into my office and we stood for a few seconds trying to comprehend what we were looking at…Once the flames died down a little bit, we could see the huge gash in the side of the building. Smoke was pouring from the building and the sky was full of papers, flying everywhere, some of them landing on my window ledge…(Three hours later, on the street)…The world outside had turned completely gray. Although it was noon, there was very little light…The air was thick and gray, filled with ash. It was difficult to see more than a block ahead. These streets that we walked every single day looked instead like the surface of the moon. The ground was covered in ash more than an inch thick…Occasionally, we came across a church or a public building that was already responding to the crisis. Priests and church staffs were on the sidewalks outside their churches with tables of bottled water and fruit. Poster-board signs were on display, reading ‘Water, Food, Bathrooms, Telephones, Rest, Prayer.’ We did not take advantage of these offerings, but were moved to see the community reacting so quickly.” McCaleb finished the book by saying, “Even on the darkest days, especially on the darkest days, it is so reassuring to see the gift of community emerge so quickly. E. Pluribus Unum. We as a city have a similar set of stories from the April 27, 2011 tornadoes. We came together, and we took care of each other, and we have moved forward.
The famous Latin phrase can be translated, “Out of many, one,” or “One out of many.” It is the simplest way to describe what can be done with true unity. One of Mayor Ronnie’s greatest concerns is that even though we have an uncommon level of unity and energy in the city of Athens, we can so easily grow stagnant and effectively “grow backwards.” The question that remains is, “How do we grow well?” We are a small, beautiful city, and truly, “small is beautiful.” We know we are growing, but how do we keep the small town feel that makes Athens so intimate, and prepare for becoming perhaps not so small?
His answer was simple and hard. “Do the right thing.” If we as Athenians will truly love our city, love each other, love ourselves, and most importantly, love God, we will be a glowing example of becoming “one out of many;” a group of diverse people that understands that true community is a gift, and does everything they know to be a gift to that community. The desire to be that gift “with skin on,” that is some of what makes Ronnie roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner