Saturday, May 30, 2009

A sense of what we've lost

Although I haven’t had a chance to go out to New Salem for a few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s different between the 1830’s and now. Sure, all the modern conveniences have been invented now – central air, refrigeration, the internet. But I know in my heart that that is only the surface. There has been a critical shift in the way people live, and the more I think about it the sadder I become.

This critical shift is in community. People used to not only know their neighbors; they relied on them day-in and day-out. I’ve been reading a book that is an autobiography of a woman who came to the frontier of Illinois with her land-surveying husband right after their wedding. It is called A Woman’s Story of Pioneer Illinois, written by Christiana Holmes Tillson. She encountered a land that was wild and untamed. She discusses a lot about how women supported each other, how they taught each other the things they needed to know. She talked about how she was working in the kitchen until only a few hours before her first child was born, as her husband had invited company over. She was down for a few days, but then went right back to work. The only way this was possible was with the support of her good friend who lived on the next homestead over – and she returned the favor a few years later when her friend delivered.

Reading this book, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own modern American life. Many days go by where I only interact with my husband or the families I work for. I live in a building with seven other families, and I only actually know one of them and can recognize three others by sight, but not name. I’ve talked to some of my friends about this – we’re all part of the Facebook generation – about how we’re closer than we’ve ever been in history, and yet farther away at the same time. Our culture has traded quality friendships for quantity acquaintances.

I don’t have a solution to propose; I think awareness is the only step at this point. All the 12-step programs preach that admitting you have a problem is the first part of healing from it. We, as a culture, have a problem. People are drowning in loneliness in the most connected generation ever to walk this planet. Waking up to this fact is the beginning of the process of correction.


Mrs. G said...

What a good post and unfortunately all too true. It encompasses so many areas of our lives but the instance closest to my heart these days is the loss of social childbirth. It's so much easier to go through life *with* people rather than next to them.


Sarah Jane said...

The book you are reading sounds wonderful. I feel the same way, but have blamed my lack of close friends/neighbors on myself (I'm a bit of a hermit). But how different it would be if indeed we all did depend on the neighborliness and friendship of the people next door. This truly is something we've lost, and I think with that loss of dependence comes a sense of distrust and a sense of apathy.