A long time ago I spent six happy weeks on Maui. It was the year of the big adventure–Cherisse and I had saved up some money, quit our jobs in Boston, and went biking and camping through parts of Europe from a rainy spring until an early fall. Not quite ready to get back to the reality of jobs and an apartment, we ended our travels at Cherisse’s parents’ house in Spreckelsville (on Maui). I have been back many times since then, to visit Cherisse’s family–now just her brother, his wife and our two adorable nieces; but only for about 10 days or so, as jobs and home responsibilities make longer stays impossible.

One of the most enduring memories of that time is of the wonderful people I met. Cherisse’s family moved to Maui when there wasn’t even a bookstore on the island; now every major chain can be found, including a Whole Foods. Many of their friends had either come around the same time–some for the same reason, a job at Lockheed on the top of Haleakala; others were born there.

What struck me was the sense of community among them. In the many gatherings, over coffee, pupus, dinner, they “talked story” and they shared information. One person was building something; another had lumber they didn’t need. Still another had the necessary tools. These were lent, given, bartered or sold in an exchange among friends and neighbors. In my 20-some years, growing up in New York City, I had never seen such a community at work. Sure, throughout my early life people helped each other or shared what they had (my parents helped many people). But it wasn’t quite the same communal putting together of heads to find solutions. I always felt this was partly due to a pioneer spirit of sorts, with people who made the most of limited resources.

I see now that their community was not unique: it is there in the times when we meet our two nearest neighbors at the mailboxes, and talk for half an hour. Or when our neighbor one winter just started plowing our driveway after a snowstorm (and has done ever since). And it is there when a friend overheard yet another plan to save the contents of our chest freezer, and offered his powerful (and prized) generator. It is hooked up now to the freezer, and may just see us through until the power returns.

I am part of many communities. Work is an important one, with its network of friends and colleagues. College friends, and those more recently met form another community. For me, being surrounded by people willing to help each other in their different ways, to put their heads together to solve a problem, is vital. I first saw the power of that on Maui, and I reap the benefits of it today.

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