Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Something Lost

In that post in which I humorously converted to humor (or attemptedly so), I mentioned that I was reading, or re-reading Barbara Kingsolver's, Pigs in Heaven. Since I only recalled fragments from my initial reading, I must say that I found it quite enjoyable the second time around. However, it left me kind of wistful, an emotion that I'm fairly sure I didn't experience the first time through. But I'm older now.

The theme was largely about Native Americans and their extended kinship relations. At least in this novel, set amongst the Cherokee of Oklahoma, they placed great value on the tribe and extended family. It caused me to feel for the first time of which I am cognizant, the hole that exists in our culture and my life. While those Indians (please permit me that term) in the book always felt that sense of belonging, I think that our English-based culture has lost that sense of connection.

We' re so flipping mobile that we can barely keep our nuclear families intact, never mind our extended families. And the concept of belonging to a larger tribal or clan has just about been extirpated. I think certain subcultures do a lot better than the dominant English culture, and I begin to wonder if our larger society is really a true society at all.

As I said, there are subgroups that do better. My Jewish DIL is very connected to all things Jewish, all of the rituals and observances, and I'm pretty sure that most of it has to do with feeling connected to a larger group. In the Jewish experience especially, that connection is not just spatial but temporal. I'm sure that it feeds a need that most of us even fail to realize that we have.

I guess we do the best we can to maintain connections; we telephone, email, Skype, and make those long flights but brief visits to stay in touch, but it's pretty much like swimming against the current. In order to maintain familial connections as best we could, a few years ago Cuppa and I moved quite a long way to be near at least part of our family. That has been meaningful and rewarding, especially in experiencing the joy of our grandchildren. It was a good move and about the best we could do to stay highly connected to at least a few people.

But it would be nice also to feel a larger connection. Somehow, nationalism just doesn't really do it although perhaps it did at one time, such as wartime — at least like the World Wars when nations became quite unified in a common cause. I suppose people research their genealogies and visit their places or origin if possible to try to make some connections, and to figure out where they came from. As helpful as that may be, I think we've still lost out somewhere along the way, and I don't think there's a cure. We've drifted too far for a do-over.

I don't suppose there's anything to do about it other than experience this momentary wistfulness and keep the connections that remain as best we can.


Mary G said...

I hear you. And I think that the 'community' identity for many of us in the past required living in a place and time where people stayed put. My grandparents lived on a farm that was one in a line of five, and the other farms were owned and managed by my gf's brothers - my mother played baseball on a team composed entirely of cousins. It was a church team and the church was the social centre (center?) of the community.
I experienced something similar when my husband was a PhD student - all the wives knew one another and we formed a tight community for about six years. Students and spouses came and went but the community remained.
I am now back in a rural community where a lot of the connections still exist. I go shopping and invariably meet people I know well - grocery aisle chats are endemic. But it is location and shared life style that connect us, not a shared belief system.
That is good and bad - the expectations of a tight-knit community can be quite stifling to those who don't entirely buy in.

Anvilcloud said...

MG: I can see the rural-urban dichotomy. It makes sense. Since we moved here, to a new community for us, I never see anyone I know when grocery shopping. Do you find many former urbanites being drawn to the rural life, and how do they make out?

Judy said...

Beautiful post. Much to ponder.

I could not imagine my life without the almost daily connections with my grandchildren.

Sometimes I wonder if as a culture we've leaned too heavily on giving our children 'wings' over 'roots'.

Mary G said...

Our community has a fair number of retirees who moved from the city and built. If they join the local events and organizations, they do integrate to an extent, but the indigenous population is a bit suspicious of people who can afford to build fancy houses, so they are held a bit at arm's length.
However, there are enough of them to form neighbourhood groups and run activities where they are the majority.
In fact, as I think of it, the people who don't integrate are almost entirely those who splash money around.

Anvilcloud said...

Judy: I love it -- "wings over roots." Iwish I could think of clever sayings like that.

Anonymous said...

Hey I picked up on the "wings over roots" too and have one son who sprouted wings right out of college and has been back to Ky. only about 4 times in 30 years. All the others love to travel and do, but live near us. I have to admit they do that because their jobs are such they are secure. He told me one day, he could only leave home and go that far away because he knew he had us back here. Now I have never known if that was a compliment or not.
Great think piece.

Anvilcloud said...

We also have a winger in the family.

Anonymous said...

Every year one of the things on my To Do List (I don't make resolutions) is to delve deeper or should I say "higher" into my family tree...branches. At least I hope it branches ! Being of Cherokee heritage, I really want to solve the mystery of my "Cherokee" great grandmother, and if she really was my grandmother. Not because of the Roll Number, but just because no one really knows who Edith Bullock Smith is/was and how she came to be listed in the Cherokee rolls AND on my family tree. What we find on the rolls does not "match" 100% with what we know about her.
BUT, I can tell you someone who IS doing something about what you've mentioned in this wonderful post...Her name is Becky Hobbs (Google if you are interested). She is a fifth great-granddaughter of Nancy Ward: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee. Nancy was born of the Wolf Clan in southeastern Tennessee. When around sixteen years of age, she went to battle with her husband, Kingfisher, against the Creeks. Her job was to chew the bullets, to make them more deadly. (That's an interesting story in itself.) When Kingfisher was killed and fell to the ground, Nancy arose to take his place and led the Cherokee to victory. Of course, there is much more to her story, but I tell you this because Becky, being the talented songwriter she is, is writing a musical about her great-grandmother. The songs are magnificent and she has even learned to speak the Cherokee language so she can sing the songs herself. I think you can find Nancy Ward's theme song, "Let There Be Peace," (not the Christmas song most are familiar with), on Becky's CD, "Song From the Road of Life" on her website.
Even if you've not heard of Becky, I can almost bet you've heard one of her songs...Alabama's hit: "Angels Among Us."
Anyway, I tell you this so that you know at least one person is not only learning more about her descendants, she's doing something to educate many, many more.
I have no doubt, someday this will be a Broadway hit !!!

Barry said...

An extremely thoughtful and well written post, Anvil.

There are some positives and many negatives that go along with the dilution of our sense of community.

Ultimately I'm not at all sure where it's all going except that being "out of touch" in both a psychological and literal sense, sure doesn't seem like a good thing to me.

Anvilcloud said...

Anecdotes: I read a bit about her and listened to one of her songs on YouTube. Never heard of her before, but she sounded good to me. Good luck on your digging. It's also something that I would like to do sometime. I've just done a tiny bit.

Doris said...

Perhaps this is not relevant if it is strong familial ties or kinship one is seeking, but I feel a connectedness with people of like interests and values - the proverbial "kindred spirits". Even if I don't know them personally (e.g. authors), I receive some solace knowing they exist and care about the same things that I do. Maybe one can define "family" in these broader terms (but of course, this doesn't help when you need a hug!).

Anvilcloud said...

Good point, Doris. It may not be the same thing, but I'm sure it works well for most. I really should be more of a joiner.

Donna said...

Wa-le-la (hummingbird)
di'-ti-yo'-hi-hi (lawyer) LOLOL, seems to fit!!

My Grandfather was half Cherokee...he lived with us for years before he died and always had advice or stories about the way things Were for the People...
I adored him and am Trying to learn the language...Hahahaa...Might I say...Difficult?????
You just about have to live on the reservation to get it right...but even There, the words are dying.
But as a child I was taught that there was Nothing More important than family...Nothing. And if you're far away? Keep the lines Open...I think everything comes down to, it's US and not THEM that fail to do more...writing, calling...All I have left here are my two sisters...the rest of my Dad's family is in Connecticut...and I Miss the closeness of "family."
I suppose that's why I blog, come to think of it...Hahaa
Family should always be close, if Even in your heart....

Anvilcloud said...

Donna: Who would have thought that when I mentioned Cherokees that to readers would be connected in some way?

Holly, the Old Western Gal said...

There was a Kingsolver who lived next to us in Tucson. She was supposedly a writer, sick with something or something like that, and doing some sort of research. Never was neighborly. Wonder if it's the same gal. We both worked at the U of A.

Lorna said...

That's why I blog too. Not my only reason, but certainly a rewarding one.

Ginnie said...

Good post, AC. One of the things I love most about AA is that it cuts through all the barriers of race, age, ethnicity, etc. I have such a variety of friends that I would never have been in contact with before.

Anvilcloud said...

Holly: If that was Barbara Kingsolver, and she does live somewhere down that way, she sure became famous. She was even Oprah's pick for Poisonwood Bible, which I don't think was her best work.

Lorna: Well it was great to meet you through this medium. SO, you've got something there.

Ginnie: I can see where AA and certain other groups could go a long way to filling the gap.