Friday, February 01, 2008

First in a series

I would like to take the time to start a series of posts about the ideas that started floating around in my head after reading my Dad's memoirs. I would like to encourage as many people as possible to write down in some fashion, memories of their life in a sort of autobiography. Both of my parents have been doing this and they have found it helpful to sort through memories and figure out where they've been on the journey of life as well as to decide what they think is important to pass on to others who are friends and family. Being the recipient of my Dad's writing, I've gotten to read it and I would like to share some thoughts that were triggered by it.

Every person has a different story to share about their life even if they are twins who have never lived apart. But, it is very common in our world for people living side by side to have vastly different stories. Things have changed so much from one generation to the next that children have a hard time relating to their parent's experiences and also the reverse. Parents have trouble relating to their children's experiences.

My Dad was born in rural Alabama during the depression. He grew up on a farm where they used horses and mules to plow their land instead of tractors. In the community where he grew up, they were surrounded by either family or neighbors on similar farms. There were no strangers in their community. Everyone was in one of those two categories: family or neighbor. I knew this before from visits we would make back there. But after reading his stories it struck me how intertwined life was with those families and neighbors. They depended on each other in times of trouble. They helped each other survive. You might have disagreements, but doing right by your family and neighbors took precedence over personal grudges.

They also worked together to make a living. All of the people farmed. But, one family might have a mill that they would hire out to others to gain the benefit. Another family might have special equipment to be used. Still another might slaughter an animal and sell the meat to the whole neighborhood. When someone fell ill during planting time, those near them would plant the crops for them. Sometimes children would stay home from school during harvest time to help bring in the crops. Everyone worked hard and worked together. My Dad's first paid job was as a field hand working alongside his father helping in another farmer's field for extra money when he was six years old.

I don't pretend that those were the good old days. They were hard times in many ways. But, there were some social benefits that our society today has almost completely lost. In our modern communities of many thousands of people, we live and move among strangers in complete anonymity. We have our co-workers, friends, family, and other social groups (such as church, clubs, etc.), but we move through vast numbers of people for whom we care very little to meet with the next little social oasis in our life. I rarely meet people I know when I go shopping. We don't often see familiar faces in the cars next to us as we drive down the road. We might get to know our next door neighbors, but many people leave that at an over the hedge "how are you? Doin' O.K." level of communication.

We have found that our social connections that are the strongest are those like church where we do things together and work to achieve similar goals. Family is strong for us when we are spending time with each other and relying on each other. Our friends are those we invite over to our house or visit at their houses (not something people do lightly when there are so many young kids running around). The neighbors we got to know the best were the ones we had to build fences with when a storm knocked down our mutual barrier.

Compared to the world my Dad grew up in we are solitary people floating in a mass of strangers, trying to fight and scrape for a living alone. My Dad's family fought and scraped for a living, but they did it among a community of interlocking relationships where everyone helped each other. How very different it is. My parents still have the tendency to build those relationships with others and develop a support system. I have had a harder time with it. I have always prided myself in my independence. I would reserve my times of dependence to be with my family. In recent years, now that my family is no longer nearby, I have had to learn to reach out and ask for help when I need it. It is so hard. But, as a result, I have built some good friendships with those people. I suppose my next step in my personal growth is seeing a need in someone else's life and filling it without waiting to be asked.

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