Over the past year, we’ve seen and heard many entreaties to support local businesses. Lately, I’ve become increasingly convinced that this commitment should include more than just businesses. What about the needs of our local communities?

Certainly, supporting local businesses is a way to address needs where you live.

This past summer, as restaurants and businesses in the town off-post reopened, my husband and I scheduled a night to order out from independently-owned restaurants each week. This commitment gradually expanded to the restaurant and retail chains, since those institutions keep people in our towns and communities employed as well.

support local business on chalkboard with calculatorThe pandemic has created a lot of need. Long lines at food banks attest to this.

As all of our worlds have gotten smaller over the past year, we’ve been exhorted to “check in on our people.” Do we consider the people outside the gate at our duty station to be our people? After all, they make our meals, staff our grocery stores, work at our clinics, and care for and teach our children. This, by most broad sociological definitions, makes these people our community.

Throughout 2020, I saw on social media accounts exhortations to change.

To change ourselves–our ways of thinking, the way we eat, exercise, or maintain our homes. I also saw calls for change in our country and our world: our politics and our systems. 

Change, of course, is value-neutral. It can mean improvement, but it can also make things worse.  The most important thing about it, however, is that affected change doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work, and it’s rarely top-down.

I’ve written here before about the importance of making our country and our world a more loving, peaceful place by starting in our own families and homes. Benedictine monasteries follow a strict rule in support of their mission: to be “schools of love.” This means that through internal discipline and mutual service to each other, they are meant to cultivate an ethic of caring for others that is supposed to be instructive to the outside world. Monks aren’t walled off to keep people out so much as to protect the fragile, important thing they are growing, to make the practice of loving others hearty enough to withstand the pressures of the world so that it can be radically exemplary.

Even as we work to make our own homes schools of love, we should be thinking about how we will make the virtues of patience, kindness, and understanding we’re cultivating visible in the community outside.

In this still-young year, let’s resolve to take the next step, to “act local, think global,” as the slogan goes.

Of course, it’s one thing to share a post urging kindness or decrying hatred. But this kind of change doesn’t just happen.

It happens in communities, and it takes work. We do this work by finding out how we can give our time, talent, and treasure to the people around us: by giving to food banks, volunteering or donating to local organizations that support our values, and by caring for the various needs of those around us. And I’m writing this as much as a reminder for myself as for all of us.

Not sure where to start? Read and watch the local news. Pick up a church bulletin or newspaper. These are all efficient ways to find out about opportunities to help out community members.

When it comes to making this still-new year better than the one that preceded it, the words of a quote widely attribute to St. Francis of Assisi ring true: “Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”