A few months ago I sat down with a copy of The Hidden Gifts of Helping by Dr. Stephen Post, a Stony Brook University professor and Setauket resident. I had only a superficial knowledge of the book: I knew it would make reference to a variety of things in Three Village, and I anticipated writing an .
I had no idea that I'd be reading an account of almost exactly what I myself had been going through during the last 11 months.
In the book, Post describes his journey from his suburban Ohio home of 20 years to Setauket, where he and his family have lived since 2008. "The facts are clear," he writes. "Such moves rank just under the loss of a spouse as among the chief causes of stress in America, and we are a nation where displacement is the norm for a great many people. We do not give community and stability of place their due."
I totally agree.
I spent most of the last 29 years living in Levittown, widely regarded as the first post-World War II suburb: recognition which, in my experience, is a source of pride for many who live there. The neighborhoods, friends and favorite places I'd grown up with were as much a part of me as are my own eyes, hands and heart. That kind of hometown relationship is not unique to me, of course, but it was only when I left that I realized how deeply rooted I was there.
Fast forward to my second day with Three Village Patch: a work meeting at The Dish. Before that, I'd only ever been here a few times – all for stuff at the university – and I had exactly one friend within a half-hour drive in any direction. Apartments are scarce, so I settled into a rather dull house share with some graduate students in Port Jefferson Station. I sampled Three Village's many fine eateries sitting at a table for one; I made valiant efforts to find a new favorite hangout. I was legitimately lonely in a place which from the outside looked so warm and friendly.
And then I found Three Village Meals on Wheels. Initially a work-related project, it was an experience I enjoyed so much that I enthusiastically became a volunteer. I did not know that contributing in this way could help me regain the sense of place I had lost.
At Meals on Wheels, I met lots of nice volunteers: longtime residents with their own deep connections to Three Village, who shared their stories of family and community with me as we delivered food to people in need. Through those experiences, I felt more and more connected to the town I’d be covering as a community journalist. But beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, the experience of helping lifted my spirits as well.
“You can become hopeful by being a giver right where you are, at any time,” Post writes. “You don’t have to be a Mother Teresa to be a giving person.”
Mother Teresa I am not, but this giver is hopeful once again.