The power of community – open source and otherwise

I broke my arm while ice-skating with the kids back in February half-term. For the first few days and weeks after the accident, life was turned upside-down. I couldn’t dress myself or butter a slice of toast – how was I going to look after two children, run a household and hold down a job?

I need not have worried. My circle of friends immediately took over, bringing round meals, taking care of the children and ferrying me to and from the hospital. They rearranged their lives to accommodate our activities, cheerfully dividing the swimming and ballet runs among themselves. I didn’t even have to ask. My employer also made life easier by being flexible and allowing me, once I was well enough, to work from home if necessary, and never putting any pressure on me.

Of course my husband carried the biggest load, but he calmly accepted the situation and just got on with it, almost always with patience and good humour. He did much of the childcare, all of the driving and made the packed lunches – though didn’t take to cooking in the way that I hoped he might! All this while doing his own job, renovating the house and planning a move to Australia – but that’s another story, perhaps for a future blog.

Mercifully, I wasn’t totally helpless for very long. Pretty quickly I managed to find a way of doing almost everything. My methods were unorthodox but they worked: I could open toothpaste with my good hand, while clamping the tube between my knees; I folded washing using one hand and my teeth; I anchored a loaf of bread with the elbow of my broken arm so that I could slice it. (It was either that or gnaw the end of the loaf.) I became quite proud of my ability to improvise and master the myriad practical challenges that daily life now presented. Like a toddler, I was fiercely independent about doing things for myself – though, thanks to the fact that I hadn’t broken my dominant arm, could feed myself less messily.

So, the experience, while I wouldn’t wish to repeat it, has had its benefits. It has reminded me how lucky I am to have the friends and family I have: although I’m pretty resilient, I could not have managed without them. I’ve also realised that even in good times we all draw strength from each other. In short, it has underlined the value and power of the community I have around me.

Here at OSS Watch, we are interested in the communities surrounding open source projects, which are no less vital to the survival of those projects. For more information on the importance of the open source community, read our briefing documents How to build an open source community and A guide to participating in an open source community.