We love to talk about community in Northern Ireland- we throw the word around like confetti.
“Our wee community.”
“The local community.”
“Helping the community.”
We group people together, call them the *insert adjective here* community and use the term to define a group in one fell swoop, because they’re all the same type of person.
The thing is, I’ve been challenged lately as to what the term really means. Until now, it was nothing more than the people I’m surrounded by, who live in the same geographical area. We live close, so we are a community – but that’s not quite so.
In recent months a new community has come into my life – a community of instagrammers and bloggers. We aren’t from the same geographical area, save that we’re all from Northern Ireland. For the most part we don’t have the same interests. We’re all different ages, from different backgrounds with different faiths and at different stages in life. On the surface, the only glue holding us together is a love of taking pretty pictures and sharing experiences, but that’s just enough.
In fact, that’s more than enough, and I look forward to every single occasion we get to meet up, the most recent being an evening spent in Belfast enjoying the Botanic Gardens, a lovely meal together followed by fancy desserts (which I think should be prerequisite for any get together). Through the little squares of Instagram, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of meeting the most dynamic, fun-loving and encouraging group of women that I otherwise would never have come across, and have the honour of calling them friends now. (At least I hope I do, because if not and you’re reading this ladies, it just got a little awkward.)
We have an ex-punk, a future bride (and you can bet we’re turning up to that wedding, invited or not, in our glam for the ‘gram), teachers, jewellery-makers, singers, students, dressmakers and office workers. Some of us are quiet, some of us are not and some of should be on a talk show. Whilst we we may not have naturally gravitated towards each other in other circumstances, our differences don’t keep us apart, instead they draw us together as we learn more about each other. They have unknowingly pushed me past my own boundaries and well out of my comfort zone whilst simultaneously cheering me along, and have given me confidence to go into a room full of strangers and make them new friends.
Community isn’t just who you’re surrounded by, or the people like you. It’s not just the population of your town or the members of a group you’re in – it’s the people who show you true friendship and support, no matter how far apart you are and how different your lives my be. It’s the people who you can take goofy pictures with for the sake of taking pictures and laugh at for days. The ones who are there for a chat, who open your eyes to see things differently. The people you have so much to learn from, and so much to teach them as well. The encouragers who listen to your ambitions and say ‘go for it!’. The ones who except you for you. Dodgy picture poses and all.
I’m very excited for our little community, for the people we haven’t met yet, for the adventures we’re going to have and maybe even the small difference we might make.
We’re told never to meet strangers from the internet, but maybe, sometimes, it’s okay and can lead you to some of the most unexpected friendships. As the saying goes: “I’ve found my people!”.
P.S. “There’s no such thing as strangers, just friends we haven’t met yet.”