What sustains? provoking thoughts from my visit to Reggio Emilia

The day is baking hot, the long walk to the town of Reggio has us longing for a cool sparkling water and perhaps one of those delicious pastries Italy is famous for. We stop at a pavement cafe and whilst waiting to be served I look around. To my left sit a group of old men, drinking the dark, bitter espresso coffee that I just cant manage, even when rinsed down with a tiny cold glass of water. There are six of them, I try to guess their ages, perhaps they are seventy years old? And although they are speaking Italian I listen in as they laugh and chat, animatedly. Another man arrives to join the group and a space is made at the table, back slaps and welcomes are exchanged. I loose interest when my coffee and pastry arrive and for a while the old men are forgotten. The scraping of chairs, to my left, has me watching the group again but this time I am even more interested as this lively group of elderly men disperse, I notice something else. The men shuffle off, each taking slow and careful steps alone. I notice how clothes hang on slender, old bones, how the lively faces change as the group disperse and I notice how old each man actually is. Observing the group together gave me a warm feeling but now I feel saddened at the sight of each old man shuffling off, alone. Is it community, a shared purpose, an aim for each day that sustains us? Being with others and having a sense of belonging is crucial to me and I believe it is crucial for each one of us. This is certainly true of the small children I work with every day, wanting to be involved, feeling valued, having a sense of purpose and a determination to explore is evident in every action every day. Let us continue to value and encourage community for people of all ages.

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