Growing in Virtue: Community
[This is part 2 of a post on learning virtues while backpacking. You can find the first post here: Growing in Virtue: Courage.]
They go by names like Redbeard, Ringers, Mantis, Jax, Midnight Joker, Chair, Fathom, Boo, and Sully. They are back-packers! People like them form the only community I've ever known. There. I said it. Community, that overused, feel-good word. A word often co-opted by the political correctness crowd. Yet, one can never know how awesome it is unless you've experienced it. I can truly say I've never experienced what a community is like more powerfully than I have on the Appalachian Trail.
Thru-hikers are truly a noble breed. Saintly? Not necessarily, yet noble all the same. They are a fiercely independent minded bunch of swashbucklers. Ragged glory is a phrase which comes to mind when I see a thru-hiker. They are young, old, Black, Asian, Caucasian, men and women. No one labels you here except whether you are a backpacker or not. You are just you. Nobody here asks, or even cares, what your political affiliation is. The trail, in the grandiose backdrop of the natural world is your reality, not rush-hour-commutes, office cubicles, or the toxic atmosphere of social media. Bears, blisters, twisted ankles, extremely steep elevation gains, finding food and water--this is reality.
If you are on the trail you are there on a common mission. You obsess over the same things, e.g. miles hiked, water sources, number of bug bites, bear sightings, illegal so-called "stealth" campsites, and aches and pains incurred from the usual 20-mile days most thru-hikers put in. Thru-hikers are not a whiny lot at all. Somehow they seem to glory in these deprivations and while they may get competitive about the number of miles, they have a deep respect for their fellow backpackers.
I am also an avid paddling and cycling enthusiast, but I've never seen the true camaraderie and community like I've seen on the trail. Thru-hikers even talk of having tramilies, or "Trail families."
This kind of community is hard to find off the trail. I have been Catholic since 1996, and I have belonged to five different parishes, and I have never experienced, not even close, the true community that I've seen on the Appalachian Trail. Which is so sad as we are all here for the same reason: because we believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. We have a common purpose as well, that is, to save our souls and those of everyone we know and to suffer for and serve mankind.
We are not merely a community, we are a family! Many saints have said that heaven is more real than our existence here on Earth because it is permanent, and our earthly lives are temporary. Therefore, our community in reality is our spiritual brothers and sisters. We will be spending an eternity with these brothers and sisters! Therefore, our community of Christians are our true siblings.
[Today's guest post is from Scott Durant, a member at Corpus Christi and volunteer catechist. What follows is a reflection on virtues learned while backpacking. To get your family out on the trail with other families, consider following Scott on Middle Maine Trekkers where he plans outings for families.]