“[T]here were times, . . . mainly during the . . . harvest, when we would all be together. The men would go early to have the benefit of the cool of the morning. The women would finish their housework and then gather, sometimes bringing dishes already cooked, to lay on a big feed at dinnertime; and then after the dishes were done, they would go out to help in the field or the barn for the rest of the day. . . . This was our membership.” (Hannah Coulter 92)
Through most of America’s history, people grew up in small towns. They knew each other and helped each other. Most people were part of a community.
Modern people have accused these forebears of sexual division, relegating women to the kitchen. But women worked in the fields too. Men and women grew food and other crops.
Often the division of labor meant he worked harder than she did growing the food. And she worked harder than he did to bring to put it on the table. Children grew up learning a good measure of hard work.
It wasn’t about who did what work. It was about making sure the work got done. Everyone had a part to play, a contribution to make, a purpose to serve.
People worked hard, some just to survive–others, to thrive. They grew old, perhaps at a faster rate than we do. They were tired. But they were not lonely.
Today, loneliness is an American epidemic. We might expect that among the elderly–especially those who live alone–but that isn’t the case. In fact, older people have done the best job of keeping themselves from being isolated.
The loneliest among us are the young.
The situation was bad before COVID. It’s worse now.
The problem is bigger than social isolation. Loneliness is a health problem–as harmful as smoking–making some more prone to heart disease. Loneliness is costly in many ways.
And social loss happens in more than dollars. Lonely people are more prone to substance abuse. Loneliness has become a social crisis.
Author of Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry sums up our problem this way: “We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.”
An exodus back to the farming life doesn’t seem reasonable. Much of the available farmland has been consolidated or subdivided. But there are things we can do.
Many of these things came more easily to farm folks. Working together, eating together.
We can do those things too. But we have to be more intentional than they had to be.
We can grow some of our own food. Some of us already grow tomatoes–even in pots–even in apartments. What better way to show the young that food doesn’t originate in a store?
What better way to explain the concept of cultivation?
We cultivate plants. We cultivate purpose. We cultivate our souls.
When we as a society left the farm for the town or the suburbs, we thought we were moving to a better place, an easier life. Ease has shown itself to be a false promise for peace in our hearts.
With purpose, we find that peace. And that is something we can pass along.
“It is not good for the man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18
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