Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand … Simplify, simplify
— Henry David Thoreau
But where do you begin? What does more, not less, community look like? Who do you turn to in shaping alliances that will make for a simpler, more coherent, reliable and fulfilling future for ourselves and our children? How does our health, our financial well-being and our values add or take away from the sum of those remedies.
Getting to those answers may require a new way of thinking, at least for me it might, but even then when I break the concept of community down to its most trouble-free form the task sounds almost too easy, Food Rules easy: Make friends. Keep them close. Do good things for one another.
Of course, you don’t have to be a recluse (or a troglodytic writer) to make more of it than that.
Take Thoreau for instance. In his own words: “I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself.” Later he tells why. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.” And yet… “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
That is a form of community I can grasp. Personal, precise, and practical.
When I think back forty years to when I was a child living first in the mid-west, then the southeast, community at that time, for a young boy anyway, was the street you lived on, the school you attended, maybe a turn at the city rec league or cub scouts, with friends of the family get togethers every once in a while across town, where you would be introduced to kids on other streets, students at other schools, and discover other opportunities to connect. It wasn’t big, it didn’t cost anyone a cabin-load of cash, and it wasn’t very complicated. It was simple, ideal and hands-on.
Times have changed of course, some for the better, especially in terms of advancements in science and technologies that make it easier to find and stay connected to the people and matters that are important to us. But too there has come an unwanted casualty of this essentially novel new world. For many, two of the three chairs sit empty, or are only occasionally occupied.
The answer why is complicated, but the better question is how to change it. We all know how to make friends (Rule 1), but if what we want is a simpler, more reliable community, we need to consider what it means to form friendships that are built to last.
Take this recent conversation I had with my brother as example. He lives in another state, a two day drive to get there, and works in the coal mining business. We were talking about the over-dependence on the planet’s natural resources and I wondered aloud how, if the peak oil theorists are correct, would I want where I live to be different.
Well, for starters, I said, it would cost more to travel so I’d want us to live closer.
But what if they’re wrong?
I guess then there’s no foul, no harm. We get to enjoy each other’s company more often, and without all headaches that will accompany the end of the modern world.
Big deal, you might say, he’s my brother. Family looks out for itself. But a few years ago when gas went to four bucks a gallon and the economy started it’s landslide that hasn’t stopped yet, did we all run home to family and circle the wagons? No. We drove less. Rule 2: Keep them close.
The third rule — which are not rules at all, but something I just made up (to admit to anything other would sound like preaching, which this already feels too much like it is) — suggests that doing good things for one another is the cornerstone of friendship, and it is. Unfortunately, I think, it’s also the most difficult to maintain and probably the number one reason those other two chairs might sit empty.
But if Lia’s diabetes has taught me anything it is that one of the most essential facts of life is that we cannot be all things to ourselves. We need others and we need to not feel alone, and if one day the world does overheat or the oil wells run dry, the good that will come from making friends, keeping them close and doing good things for one another might prove a worthy ally, in any kind of weather.