Town halls are the heart of their communities.
Even in the most old-fashioned, Mayberry-type regions, these buildings always reflect the zeitgeist in some way. Sure, the walls might be covered in photos of times long since passed or memorials to local soldiers who fought in wars only remembered now in history books. But the same place will also host Zumba classes, after school programs, and community forums on current issues.
Even American Red Cross blood drives necessitated by a global pandemic.
Town halls have been around since the days of Ancient Rome, when basilicas were built for meeting spaces, commerce, and governmental administration. And in the modern age, the term “town hall” has bee co-opted for political forums when candidates want to portray gatherings as intimate, small-scale, and down to earth.
Yesterday afternoon I sat in our local town hall, waiting to donate blood. I couldn’t help but think of the vital role the building has played over the years and will likely continue to play well into the future. While the blood drive was certainly part of that role, it also felt surreally set apart from everything.
Red Cross technicians, faces covered in masks and hand with gloves, worked with focus and efficiency, their eyes drooping a bit from another busy day, foreheads furrowed from stress. Neighbors, friends, and fellow residents sat in folding chairs, six feet apart, waiting their turn, or they lay on stretchers (is that the right term?), their precious donation flowing into sealed bags. They, too, all wore face masks and bore the same tired eyes and worried brows.
This didn’t feel like a blood drive. It felt more intense and dutiful. I’ve given blood before, and yesterday lacked the casual, convivial atmosphere. Understandably so. Conversation was quiet and stilted. Jokes to put donors at ease were stilted and awkward, though appreciated.
As I lay on the stretcher, trying not to think about the needle in my arm, memories of previous times in the town hall came back to me.
The town-wide yard sale held each summer on the front lawn and inside. I can’t see that happening this year.
Voting on school budgets, municipal spending, and elected offices. What will that look like come November?
The sounds of music blasting out the front doors during a Zumba class. When will I hear that again while walking my dog and feeling relieved that I’m not participating?
After finishing my donation and drinking some water at the snack table, I left the town hall and walked home. Glad for the building and it’s ability to meet the needs of any given circumstance, even during the most difficult times. I hoped that we, as Americans, can be like that time-honored center of our towns.
Can we collectively rise to the challenge? Will we truly be able to meet the needs of our towns, our states, our country? Even our world? Because it doesn’t seem like we’re there yet. We’re quick to talk about our rights, but painfully slow to talk about our responsibilities.
There’s a lot we can learn from the old town hall. We just need to take a few minutes and listen.
To donate blood to the American Red Cross, visit http://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive to find a blood drive near you. The need is high, and your support will be appreciated by so many.