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Fran's son is in the middle of a messy divorce so when she can't sleep for
worrying she calls on her community to just listen.

Carrie found a lump in her breast and waits anxiously for the test results.
Her community sends her silly cards and pictures to keep her cheered up.

Mary is going through menopause and her community commiserates and jokes
around about their experience with it.

Frank hears about a young woman who was the driver in a car accident that
killed her best friend.  The community sends her all the sympathy, wisdom, and 
prayer they can.

As for myself, I've  just gotten back from my clinic appointment and for
the first time in a year my T cells are up and my viral load is down-evidence that 
the new meds are beginning to work for me.  I  can't wait to share the good news with 
my community. They all send me congratulations and tell me how relieved they are.

Where is this community?  Is it a small town neighborhood?  Is it some
special interest group meeting in the basement of some church?  Is it  
a support group led by a trained therapist?  Nope, it's the pot bellied pig 
listserver on the internet!

When I first got Lu Lu , my pot bellied pig, she was only three weeks old
and I didn't have a clue how to care for her.  Searching for information on 
the Internet I ran across a listserver for pot-bellied-pig owners.  I had never 
used a listserver before or communicated with strangers via the Net but I 
subscribed telling myself, I'll just ask a few questions about pigs, get my 
answers and get off the list. 

For those of you unfamiliar with listservers it works something like this:
You subscribe and then anytime you or another member sends a "letter" 
via Email it is "posted" so that all the members of the list can read it.  
Then you can choose to respond (or not) and that response it posted where 
once again everyone on the list sees it.

When I first got on PigPals (as it is called) I didn't know what to think.
Yes, they quickly answered my questions about little Lu Lu but then they 
wanted to hear more about her and myself!!  I felt like a newcomer, they all 
seemed to know each other and share lots of private jokes.  They talked about 
pigs but it seemed they also shared anything else going on in their lives.  
And what a strange mix of people!  A couple in prison ministry, a gay
man struggling with his lover's illness,  little old ladies, young people,
straight men, lesbians, people in South Africa, people in Idaho, people in big cities,
people way out in the country.  The only thing I saw that we had in common was 
that we loved our pot bellied pigs!

I held back at first, stayed closeted about my AIDS diagnoses.  I mean I'd
never even met these people!  Slowly I began to get involved with the posts, 
found myself worrying about various members when things weren't going well for 
them. I finally shared my AIDS diagnoses, nervous that it would be too much for some 
of these midwestern, straight people.  I was flooded with well wishes, concern and 
even more important was still treated as "Lu Lu's Mom" not a person with AIDS.

Then someone mentioned being in AA and we took a voluntary poll and
found out quite a few of us shared being in recovery.  We formed a "sub group" called
the Sober Pig Pen for recovering addicts with potbellied pigs.  This group has slowly
disbanded for we found that we didn't need to separate ourselves from the general
"population" of PigPals, that all of us on the list were struggling with something and
could support each other no matter what that "something" was.

We fight!  At first it was frightening to me to see such bitter words
shouted between community members!  I found myself wanting to play "peacemaker."  
Usually the arguments are over "pig politics" and what causes we should and should not
support. Sometimes it gets personal, demanding individuals to answer questions and
explain their behavior.  I believe that because it is via the Internet, rather than face
to face, many people are more willing to go ahead and say what they mean.  There is a
certain feeling of safety when you are sitting in your own room behind your computer!  On
the other hand, what you say is down in black and white and can be brought back to
life by the touch of a button!  Sometimes people get really upset and "unsub."  In
other words they ask to be taken off the list and not receive any more mail from the group.
For some, this is what they have to do, they no longer feel they are part of the
community.  For others however,  asking to :"unsub" is actually the internet equivalent of walking
out the door and slamming it behind them!  When they cool off they come back to work it

Our "herd leader," as we call the woman who originated the list and pays to
run it through her computer, does a great job.  She seems to take the role of leader much
as a chairperson at an AA meeting.  In other words, she doesn't really lead, she
is a trusted servant.  Except sometimes when someone asks to unsub she will reply back
that her "unsub" button is broken!  She seems to know that if the person will stay
on just a little while longer the unrest in the group will work itself out.  Sometimes that
just means we agree to disagree.

Sometimes various members form closer bonds with certain members and will
Email them privately with things.  I don't know about others but I can speak for
myself.  I have a special relationship with a woman in the Houston area.  We've never met
face to face but do Email privately.  She is my pig's "Godmother"  We have exchanged phone and
addresses for an emergency situation.  Should something happen to me my
Mother knows she can call my friend to come get Lu Lu if necessary.  What we DON'T do is
talk about other members on the list when Emailing each other privately.  I believe
this is the most damaging thing that can happen in community.  I'll never forget a good
friend of mine who is a Catholic nun who lived with four other Sisters.  They had a house
rule that none of them were allowed to discuss a house member without that member being
present. What a powerful community building tool !

One of the best things about this community is that it is available to me
24 hours a day without my ever having to leave my house.  I live out in the country and
going to town is so time consuming.  Others on the list have small children at home and
would find it difficult to get out to a meeting.

Well I have only been on this list for about six months but feel so
connected.  Some members have been on the list for a year.  We are beginning to really "gel"
into a community that wants to take actions collectively.  We do mass mailings to
city councils and other governmental organizations to try to change public policies.  We
emotionally and financially support various pig sanctuaries that care for abandoned
pigs.  We quote Gandhi and others to one another to help motivate!  We laugh, cry and try
to grow with one another.  We call ourselves a "herd" but we are talking about a community.

You never know where something will lead you.  I just wanted to know how
many cups of feed to give my pig and now I have this huge international family to
feed my soul!

Cindy Kergoat