|My Brothers & Me in Missouri:|
A Tree Planted When We Were Toddlers
I have been puzzling over the curious concept of community. How has it changed or remained the same in the past five decades? How much of community is fed by our similarities as compared to our differences? More specifically, how does community manifest for deep introverts (like me)?
A lot of my curiosity has arisen because of an epiphany I had while writing Desert Fire, which was the realization that I had slowly and gradually become part of a community in Maine. And that it’s only upon reflection that I’ve realized how my soul was nourished by that subtle ebb and flow of community. I lost most of those tangible threads when we moved to Arizona, and, after nearly four years, have been unable to feel welcomed into a strong sense of community here.
Is that loss of community why I feel this tug to return to the landscape where I was born? To return to the land where both sides of my family-of-origin have lived for generations?
It feels strange to me to want — or at least be open to, for the first time in my life — to place myself in the midst of a culture that is predominantly the opposite of my own belief system. For me, as a pagan-liberal, to consider the value of living around Christian-conservatives is an enigma swirling in my mind. Will I be welcomed or ostracized? And yet, to continue growing in my understanding of Self and humanity through conscious placement into diversity holds a tantalizing energy. It’s almost like choosing to live in a foreign country as an observer, an anthropological endeavor, while unable to detach from my emotions. Yet, within the southwestern Missouri Ozarks reside my own genetic and blood-roots, foreign as they may seem.
|Big Spring, MO|
It is easier in many ways to settle in a place where everyone, or at least the majority, thinks as we do (Oregon, a state we are also considering moving to) than to be where the mindset is alien (Arizona and Missouri). And yet, if one’s purpose is to grow and share the beauty of diversity, what better way than to live on the edge, at the perimeter? If we live in separation — segregated — the gap becomes wider and the bridge more flimsy due to the distances between us. How do we nourish community within diversity? Precious Diversity in her “coat of many colors that my Mother made for me.” Will I be able to stay focused on my path and also find the community’s core goodness, our commonality?
Will the land support and soothe my fears and nurture our differences? At least in the Ozarks, I would be living in a moderate, lovely landscape (in spite of the occasional tornado) and climate where my husband and I can afford to live comfortably as we age closer to retirement. I want to walk barefoot upon the land and within my own mind — free from aversions to my past.
|My Grandparents' Farm in MO|
I yearn to sink down, to ground — even if it is into my own blood-roots that I swore I would never return to. I never felt I fit in — with family or culture or religion — and yet, now, I also feel a kinship arising within me like the ancient sap of an ancestral core. Is it the simple process of aging that does this? Or is it self-realization? An acknowledgment and acceptance that I am spirit; genes, and uniquely woven — all of these? What are the gifts held within genetic memory and the people who are my family-of-origin?
Is it possible for the moist verdant rolling hills, the vibrant vegetation, and the multi-generational roots of family and community to be nourishing enough to offset the strain of living a culturally misfit presence?
During the past couple of months, as the potential for moving has become clearer, I’m reading a variety of related sources that touch upon family, community, diversity, and how we view our historic past. The books written by psychologist Mary Pipher have been extremely helpful; they have provided me with insights I’d not previously considered regarding our American views of family and community. (I wholeheartedly recommend her books, I’ve read all of them, though I find myself disagreeing with some of her more rigid views.)
For me, this research also entails trying to understand why some of us attach so strongly to the past and its symbols, while others can detach, even when we are born into the same families.* Most southern Missouri people were allied with the Confederacy, and yet, somehow, from a quite young age, I personally felt more like a Yankee. Because of this desire to comprehend a different perspective, I’m also reading books like Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct by Michael McCullough, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt, and The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters published this year by James McPherson.
* I am an American hybrid, an example of the genetic melting pot; my ancestors are mostly 17th century immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and England, as well as from the Netherlands and Germany, blended with a couple of Native Americans. Is it possible that my different views (from my family) are also a product of genetic memory? In Beyond Revenge, the author points out that most of the American South was originally settled by “livestock herding” immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and Wales; these traditional cultures held a strong “honor mentality” due to their original way of life (their livelihood — herding animals — were portable and could be stolen away). This imprint has held firm even when they moved into agricultural pursuits. This is in contrast to the settlers of the American North who were a majority of European, England and Germany for example, established farmers in traditions (their livelihoods were predominantly agricultural and, therefore, could not as easily be stolen therefore emerging a different culture and mindset). Is it the German genes being expressed more strongly through me? McCullough’s book is absolutely fascinating, even though I don’t concur with all his findings. Nevertheless, it helped me to think outside the box.