Wednesday, August 02, 2017


Reprinted from April 2012

My friend Milan at work, a Serb, was correcting one of the other people in his lunch group. I believe it was Jelena, an Albanian, but it was one of the many folks from the Balkans we have working in environmental services at the hospital. She had talked a bit wistfully about how her village was close when she was young, and there were always people to go talk to and be with, but now she does not have friends close, and her family farther away than she would like. Milan's brow darkened.
We are close together because was for safety. You go out of village alone, maybe someone kill you, rape you. We are together, always together like animals to hunt. You come here you see this one French,* that one from somewhere Africa, friend for you but not close. But not kill you.

An important point, that. But memory does soften the edges of even terrible events. And even more in Jelena's defense, friendship and support soften the edge of terrible events too. She would likely choose again to come here. But the loss is real.

*Milan lives in Suncook, I think, so French-Canadian is likely


Grim said...

Good points, all. The bond of friendship that softens the edge of danger was called frith in Old English. I've written a bit about it at times -- there's a whole section on my sidebar about that concept. Its loss is substantial.

Sam L. said...

The "old ways" of thinking take a long time to go away. Habits, too. Because they had to do with safety.

Retriever said...

Serendipity. One of the kids had just sent me link to this, after I had described how inhospitable our area now feels, and how angry I had been at a recent Maggie's Farm post sneering at a lonely older woman in a similar suburb. The commenters called her "needy".

I still remember how close I was to my friends in an English boarding school (what made the place bearable was having comrades, fellow-sufferers, people to defeat the evil teachers, matrons and other tyrants with). We were not in danger (except of being denied supper or made to march around outside in the rain for four hours for some disciplinary infraction or having to be publicly shamed in front of a school assembly, or having some of our few prized possessions taken away, possibly never to be returned, by an authority figure, but it bred a fierce loyalty to one's peers, a determination never to betray each other, and encouraged bravery. If only in the form of stupid impulsive acts done to make one's peers happy: we would sneak out on foraging trips to the village to bring back forbidden candy to cheer up the miserable younger children in the school who would cry themselves to sleep missing their mothers. Sheer joy.

Also, Americans love to dismiss the old ways when they interfere with capitalism. My father used to do this when he would sneer at employees of his who wouldn't want to be transferred to one of his overseas operations. "Idiot! It's a promotion, an opportunity!" Even as a kid, I would protest "But his wife is close to her family, and his elderly mother is sick and he doesn't want to leave his entire group of "mates" (these were British workers).

Social and familly ties aren't just warm and fuzzy, they are the only real insurance any of us have against the caprice of our employers and the market. We can save up our pennies and have them confiscated by taxes or crooked banks. If you have a disabled kid you very quickly discover that only social ties of the "old" variety will make life even half way bearable.

Those of us who go to church know that we don't just go for theological reasons, but in search of an older form of community.

I love America, but the kinds of ties that were valued and at least given lip service to here are being tossed aside nowadays. So increasingly I probably sound to most people like a scarred, traumatized refugee from a war torn country. Because life is fragile and John Donne reminded us "no man is an island..."

It is sheer bloody HUBRIS the way Americans tout a cigarette ad variety of rugged individualism that pretends people don't do better with a web of mutual bonds of love, responsibility and care that help them feel at home in the world. And I am not talking about domesticating macho men. Just preserving the kinds of ties that add dignity and meaning to all of our lives.

Who me, jaded? I live in a community of pirates, where trophy brides sneer looking at a house on the market near me and whine to the realtor "I can't believe you are showing me this....I couldn't possibly live in a house somebody else has lived in. It has to be NEW!"

Texan99 said...

Sebantian Junger wrote a book about this nostalgia for terrible times when the tribal bond was passionate because it was critical to survival. Sometimes it's hard to adjust to a more peaceful, casual society that can seem dispirited or empty in contrast. It's a tough trick to bond tightly without the crucible or war or its equivalent, and that problem threatens to make us tolerate or even provoke crisis and desolation in our lives.