Monday, November 24, 2014

Letters Home

I'm mailing out cards for family and friends we won't see around the table at Thanksgiving, which is quite a few, as we are spread out all over the USA. I'm not sure what it is like to have all your relatives and in-laws living in the same town, but I imagine it must be nice to be able to visit with everyone at some point during the holidays; catch up on the family news, give hugs and hold new babies in person, trade advice and humorous stories. As families get smaller and live further apart, no wonder family ties get looser and hometowns less important.

Over the years, I've done some thinking about why Americans are the way they are: in a hurry, moving frequently, less connected to the past and to family, endlessly consuming and materialistic, youth-oriented, all that stuff we complain about. I think it's just that we are a young country that happened to build on the industrial age and all the advances in speed in just about everything.

We traveled faster, communicated faster, built fortunes faster than in previous centuries and the landscape and communities were new too. All that made suburbia and social mobility possible, almost required. If the economy is bad in one place it's assumed you should pack up and move where the jobs are, very little respect is given to the idea of wanting to stay where your people came from, because probably your parents have picked up and moved for retirement, your sister and brother went to university elsewhere and settled in another town for good schools, and so on.

Suburbia implies impermanence. Modern houses are not built to last more than a generation or two. And who stays in the family house more than a generation these day? We change houses with phases of life. My grandparents' houses are both in neighborhoods that are now much more urban than when they set up house there. (For Seattleites, one is on Roosevelt Way and the other on 35th Ave. SW, both now busy arterials where street cars used to run down the center lane.)

In older countries, neighborhoods are longer established and more stable. With time, beautiful established neighborhoods can be cultivated, but we have to value them and stay there to make it happen. One of the themes of my life is making a commitment to stability. Benedictine monastics take a vow of stability, to live in one community, to submit to living under the Rule of St. Benedict, under the authority of the abbot/abbess. I often ask myself if I can make that commitment to stay here and be that center for my children, the home place they can come back to throughout their lives, and their children's lives. Can I say no to being a nomad?


Here is a little poem I wrote, part of a longer set of verses about all the months of the year.

November 1 is winter's start,
This month remembered all souls in our hearts.
Through prayers now we our love we send,
And give thanks to God at harvest's end.

And to end, a favorite picture of No. 3, enjoying the first snow of the year a decade ago. Can't you just feel her excitement? This winter's forecast is for wet and gloomy but not freezing weather, so probably no snow this year. Hard to believe how much snow some parts of the country have gotten already.
November 2005

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