Reclaiming the Smallness and Intimacy of Yesteryear

old farm houseThere are moments when you have to take a step back and contemplate what we have lost in the face of what we have (supposedly) gained.

The other week I found myself one town over picking up an x-ray at a local medical services building. As is the protocol, I went to the front desk, gave my name and explained what I was there for. The chipper and extremely helpful woman behind the desk said it would be a few minutes, so I went and took a seat amongst the small crowd of other patients.

Then, from the corner of the room, a middle-aged woman leaned over and asked, “Did you grow up in Island Park?”

Island Park is a neighborhood in the town I was in (Portsmouth). My dad grew up there and for the first few years of my life I did as well. We later moved one town over after my parents divorced, but my dad continued to run several restaurants in the Island Park area, serve on the fire department, and be an all-around local guy over the years. “Gerlach” was one of those names that stood out — for multiple reasons.

“My dad grew up there. I only lived there for a few years,” I replied.

She smiled and said, “I used to babysit you and your brother. When I heard you say ‘Gerlach’ and saw your face, I knew it had to be you.”

What transpired next has made me smile ever since: After apologizing for not recognizing her (it was 35 years ago), she went on to explain how she came to be our babysitter, what a wonderful grandmother I had (she called my Nana her “adopted grandmother”), and asked how my parents were doing. We traded what limited memories I could conjure of late 1970′s Island Park life with her filling in the gaps here and there.

Her companion sitting by her side then began to expound on the values and virtues of the people and places of our older generations — our parents and (especially) grandparents who had come before us. How everyone knew everyone else. How you could count on any one of your neighbors to lend a hand — whether it was for a cup of sugar or fixing up something around the house. How life’s staples were never more than a short walk away. How there was a genuine spirit of caring and compassion.

I listened attentively, soaking it all in.  (I had just drafted the post on the not-so-smartphones and his perspective resonated deeply.) As I glanced to either side of me, I saw that others in the waiting room were leaning in on the conversation, smiling at what could only be fond memories of their own (it was an older crowd).

Using this perspective on yesteryear as his foundation, the gentleman then took the opposite angle, calling out many of the ailments of today’s society that have come about as a result of all our “advances”: Cracking relationships, loss of community, declining health (as he pointed to his rotund mid-section), endless hours in the car driving here and there… he went on for a while.

This exchange has stuck with me. It’s given me a new cornerstone of reflection as I think about my family, my community, and society as a whole. What have we really lost? What have we really gained? What is the end point of this modern trajectory of so-called “convenience” and “growth”? Can we stop something with so much momentum behind it? What are the alternatives? Could others care about reclaiming this smallness and intimacy of yesteryear too? Should that be the target as this great change sweeps across the land? How do we get there? Where do we start?

These are big questions. Any maybe not all of them are the right questions.

If I distill my thoughts of the smallness and intimacy of yesteryear down to just a handful of things, I believe that in order to reclaim that, we must focus on the following:

  • Relationships — With the people, places and other manifestations of creation that sustain us
  • Compassion — A genuine concern for the welfare of all around us and the ability to put the needs of other beings before our own
  • Simplicity — In all aspects of our day-to-day life; un-complicating what modernity has complicated on its path of so-called growth and gain
  • Fortitude — To face and overcome challenges and adversities; to dig deep and embrace an ethic of creativity, self-sufficiency and resilience within our selves and our communities.

What do you question in this time of change? Is the smallness and intimacy of yesteryear worth reclaiming? What do you see as the trade-off, if anything at all?

Be well,
Bill

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[image: John Rizzitelli Photography]

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