“A track is not the shape of a foot; it is the shape of a foot in the ground.” ~ Mary Pipher
The above sentence clarifies my sense of the path I’ve already travelled as well as the one that remains in front of me. It reveals a vital image of context. My tracks are not just mine but encompass where I have placed my feet. And the image also provides discernment toward where next to step, because I will leave my imprint in that place while also receiving its imprint upon me.
Pipher reflects upon how “place is identity” when she refers to a painting and interprets the artist’s message to be that, “we are landscape internalized. Our souls are etched with the geography of a particular place.” Every place I’ve lived has done this, has etched itself upon my soul. A new place will do this, too.
It is difficult if not impossible to separate culture(1) from community(2). Because community is a place that is inhabited by people (in this instance, though, I also know the power of being in community with beings of the more-than-human world), those people bring with them their culture. My personal yearning for a specific place in which to feel at home is by its very nature tied to whoever lives there and what their beliefs are.
While I am simply an American moving from one state to another within the same country, reading Mary Pipher’s book The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community has provided tremendous perspective. Pipher’s book is eye-opening and heart-breaking; she says that “it is difficult to describe or even imagine the challenges of getting started in a new country.” Not only do refugees and immigrants have to decide how much of their traditional culture they want to maintain, while also building a new life and community in a foreign country (and concurrently learning a new language), they are also dealing with past trauma that is nearly incomprehensible to me. I’m grateful for the blessings of being an American and having access to so many diverse resources, and Pipher’s book offers lessons in compassion as well as resilience.
I have spent a lifetime shying away from conflict and yet, not surprisingly, still find myself occasionally in the midst of it in one way, shape or form. Pipher says that, “Community does not mean ‘free of conflict.’ It’s inevitable and even healthy to have great differences. Diversity in community is as healthy as diversity in any ecosystem. Without diversity in age, ethnicity, and ideas, we don’t have communities; we have lifestyle enclaves. Even conflict can lead to closeness.” I find myself wondering if this is true. Can conflict indeed lead to closeness? I try to recall examples of this in my own life but come up empty; maybe I need to spend more time on this one. However, I don’t see that diversity has to result in conflict. Am I naive?
I am encouraged by Pipher’s expression of how cultures can flow, because it reflects my own desire to understand all sides of a situation. She says:
“Cultural traditions are not set in stone. Cultures are not monolithic. Rather, they are processes, or sets of negotiations between members. Cultures are practical, active, and creative responses to specific conditions. They are constantly changing, and within any given culture there are many points of view and many different groups and members.
“Culture isn’t the property of just the leaders or the powerful. The right to interpret the cultural values doesn’t belong to any one group. It is important to ask whose interests are sever and whose are violated by a tradition. Who profits from maintaining the status quo in a culture? Who stands to gain with change?”
The above is great to ponder because it invites into the conversation the theories of cultural evolution. These theories, in turn, provide new ways of looking at the difficult and sometimes violent gaps between the Northern and Southern cultures of America.
The further we move into a global society, I agree with Pipher that “we need a home to hold our lives in place” because I have felt this deep need in my bones the older I’ve gotten. Pipher quotes Bill Holm: “The love of your own country hasn’t to do with foreign politics, burning flags, or the Maginot Line against immigrants at the border. It has to do with light on a hillside, the fat belly of a local trout, and the smell of new-mown hay.” This emphasizes how important individual landscapes and their communities are to our identity. America is a huge country, populated over hundreds of years by immigrants from diverse cultures who created their own unique communities. Many of these original communities have all but vanished, and those of us who moved away during our youths can often feel like we are displaced or culturally-bereft when it comes to specifics. Pipher goes on to say that “The refugee experience of dislocation, cultural bereavement, confusion, and constant change will soon be all of our experience. As the world becomes globalized, we’ll all be searching for home. There are two intertwined components to home: people and place.”
I seek somewhere I can call home again.
|Me with Mom, younger brother, and new puppy in Missouri in the late 1960's|
1 Culture is defined as: “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group” and “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.” [Apple Dictionary]
2 Community is defined as: “ a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” and “a particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants.” [Apple Dictionary]