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Reflecting on the importance of community and its roots

Reflecting on the importance of community and its roots

Years ago, I was fond of a song by Tim McGraw called Why We Said Goodbye. As with many country songs, its draped loosely in the narrative of a past partner and a longing for the way things once were. This alone is unremarkable, but there’s a line in the song that has stuck with me throughout the years – you’re sewn into the fabric, the pieces of my life.

On my way home from a luncheon I attended last month to honour York retirees, this line popped into my head. Throughout the afternoon, I had been fortunate to hear such great stories from retirees about how their time at York shaped their life, identity, sense of purpose and friendships. I heard stories about colleagues showing up at family members’ memorials and funerals unexpectedly, coming together to support each other in hard times and kind notes to celebrate birthdays and other milestones. I heard stories about returning to work after the pandemic and learning about the new hobbies people had picked up. Perhaps this meant a few more loaves of banana bread in the break room from those who had taken up baking, or more plants throughout the office from those who had nurtured their green thumb.

Though all retirees I spoke to were doing well in retirement, all looked back on their time at York fondly, recognizing how it had been woven into the fabric of their lives.

This is something that really resonates with me. Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky to work with colleagues who are intelligent, empathetic and supportive, both within and outside the metaphorical office walls. I’ve been even luckier to work with some of the same colleagues at different points in my career and have them turn into friends. To hear that others feel the same is a great connector.

We are all governed by individual experiences and thoughts, yet we are bound where our collective experiences and thoughts intersect. A place of work, especially one that an individual has contributed many years to, is a prime example of where these experiences intersect on a daily basis, creating connections that transcend workplace borders. The ability to develop interpersonal relationships with colleagues is not synonymous with any place of work, but anecdotes from recent retirees affirmed what I already believed to be true – that York’s workplace environment and culture is uniquely welcoming and inclusive, and while community may not be a part of every workplace, it is certainly a cornerstone of ours.

This concept is not new. In fact, it has roots with those who have care taken the land York University is situated upon and those who call it home today.

While it is important to learn about, respect and celebrate the diversity in cultures of Indigenous nations in Canada, First Nation, Inuit and Métis world views have certain elements in common. For learners, these common elements are often referred to as essential understandings, as understanding their importance and application provides a foundation for further learning about Indigenous knowledges, languages, practice, and ways of being.

One such essential understanding is that of community. In practice, this involves cultivating a sense of belonging within a group as a core element of identity. It also means taking care of each other and coming together for life’s many moments, including celebration, mourning, gratitude, and support.

During National Indigenous History month, we have the opportunity to engage with the history and culture that Indigenous people bring to York and their importance to Canadian society. Our strong sense of community – a concept inherited, learned and consistently applied – is a contribution worth celebrating.

As we move into the warmer months, I would encourage you to practice the same concepts of community and taking care of each other on a personal level. As our responsibilities and lives at work ebb and flow, so do our personal lives. We respond to challenges, navigate difficult situations, relish in causes for celebration and seek opportunities to rest and recharge. As the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup, and time away is just as important as showing up.

On the heels of a successful Congress 2023 which saw contributions from every department across the division, rest is well deserved. Take the time you need and spend it however you’d like. Your York colleagues and friends will look forward to hearing stories from your time off when you return.