Life in Community

Community Is an Antidote to Addiction

November 1, 2018 by

As I do every Monday morning, I donned an apron and armed myself with a four-and-a-half foot dust mop, ready to sweep every square inch of the lobby adjacent to our communal dining hall. Before I knew it, my mop bumped up against what appeared to be a recycling center run amok. Colorful plastic trophies rescued from the bins in the basement, scraps of paper, tin and plastic cans, bubble wrap and packaging in all shapes and sizes, cardboard in every texture imaginable, old balloons from birthday parties long forgotten and finally, about a year’s worth of candle stubs gleaned from the dining room tables.

When I looked up and saw the hand-drawn poster made by a particularly artistic friend of mine, I realized what was going on. The sign was compelling passers-by to make creative lanterns for our upcoming lantern festival, better known as “The Lantern Walk.” The advertisement was so attractive, I was tempted to believe that even I could make a winning lantern with materials otherwise destined for a landfill.

Every fall, when the weather gets sufficiently dark, dismal, and damp, the children of Spring Valley community start making lanterns. A date is set when the whole community will assemble to walk around the grounds, singing and enjoying the glow of almost three hundred lanterns. Nobody wants to be without a lantern and anticipation of this centuries-old tradition is uncontainable.

Intentional Christian community members gathering for a lantern festival

Soon, detritus from the lobby’s recycling piles is in my house. My eldest is making patterns with nails in a tin can, my youngest daughter brought home a balloon to make a round, papier-mâché lantern. (The balloon has since popped; many games of catch took its toll before I could cook up the cornstarch goo.) My eldest son set out to the far end of the marsh with a cross-cut saw to harvest bamboo for a lantern pole.

Since my kids are too excited to wait for the Lantern Walk that we do with the whole community, our family has done some dry runs already. So the other evening I was marching along with my two-year-old and swinging a colorful lantern painted by my daughter, when a non-sequitur occurred to me: Perhaps Lantern Walks are an antidote to heroin addiction.

It was on my mind that evening because I’m finally reading Sam Quinones’s Dreamland, The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, published in 2015. I want to understand why heroin is everywhere and why addiction is devastating the Appalachian mountaintop county where I live. Every time I leave home, I encounter this rural tragedy, whether it’s friends in our Bible study whose husbands are incarcerated, the inmates at the county jail who are thankful to be away from easy access to dope, or residents of from a local half-way house who join us for our Sunday service.

In his thorough and brilliant investigation, Quinones proposes some answers. He writes that community has pretty much been destroyed in America as we’ve sacrificed the public sphere (and the dollars that support it) on the altar of a private sector that can do no wrong. I’d like to place the blame squarely at the feet of Purdue Pharma and the unbridled free market, but it’s not that easy. As a nation, we equate happiness with consumption, not, for example, walking and singing with friends and family. As Quinones points out, a heroin user is the ultimate consumer. “A life that finds opiates turns away from family and community and devotes itself entirely to self-gratification… I believe more strongly than ever that the antidote to heroin is community. If you want to keep kids off heroin, make sure people in your neighborhood do things together, in public, often…Bring people out of their private rooms, whatever forms those rooms take. We might consider living more simply. Pursuit of stuff doesn’t equal happiness, as any heroin addict will tell you.”

plate of donuts and a lantern on a table

So this fall, I, like my kids, can’t wait to gather with the whole community to celebrate the turn of the seasons. We’ll create, not consume. Well, I take that back. When we’re hoarse from singing, our fingers are numb, and the babies are getting fussy, all three hundred of us will enter the well-swept lobby and sit down together by lantern light to consume fresh donuts and hot cider.

So why not try this in your neighborhood? More than any legislation or activism, it’s only community action of this sort that can effectively push back against addiction and save families and lives.


About the author


Jordanna Bazeley

Jordanna Bazeley lives at Danthonia Bruderhof in Australia with her husband, Johann, and their four children.

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