Solitary confinement. Deserted islands of prosperity. Suburbia.
You know, that place where 50 or so years ago we traded our porches for privacy fences and communication with our neighbors on the way to the corner store for long commutes across town in our cars alone. Where people are replaced by television programs. And sometimes I wonder if I am the only one (besides my sweet hubby) who cares. The only one who struggles to survive this separation from my fellow man. The only one who wonders how we got here and why. And then I read books like The Connecting Church by Randy Frazee that include quotes like these:
“…experts point to the 1950s as a pivotal period in the development of a culture of isolation. It was during this era that Americans began to build places to live that have turned out to be more of a prison than a home – we know these places as the suburbs” (p. 111)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff writer Liz Stevens writes, “Suburbs were created after World War II to remedy the housing shortage where the land was the cheapest. The automobile made it easy for people to commute longer distances to work. The clean, spacious suburbs, as they were, fit neatly into the concept of the American Dream. What happened is that suburban developers created a housing market aimed at newly affluent populations. But these developers were not architects or urban planners, and the new suburbs did not take into account basic human needs” (p. 111).
“Writing for the Atlantic Monthly, author James Howard Kunstler is brutal to the suburban way of life, suggesting that it is ‘socially devastating and spiritually degrading” (p. 113).
And I know it is real. And while I understand that my own struggle with life in suburbia is quite likely exacerbated by my introverted and possibly less than appealing personality, I still worry about what we are becoming as a culture.
A friend of mine who has returned to the states from years of mission work in Uganda recently shared with me that after being in their new neighborhood for over a year not one “neighbor” has asked them over for dinner. And my heart aches for her and the hard, but rich with people, life she left behind. And I know that not everyone has the gift of hospitality, but we, who profess to believe, have all been called to love our neighbor as ourselves. And sometimes love is simply a bowl of soup to a stranger. That we may eventually call them friend.
Then there is Emmylou on the way home the other night – asking me about the apartments that we are passing. Wondering what they are. After explaining that they are small houses connected together that share a big yard in the middle, I steal glances at her in the rear view mirror. And I see the wheels churning and I know what she is thinking before she finds the words to speak her heart. “Mama, I wish that (insert list of friends’ & neighbors’ names here) all lived together in the same house with us.” Me too, girl, me too. And my heart breaks for her and the life she desires that seems impossible in this land of seclusion. And then I get mad. Because all she really wants is to be with her people.
And I wonder again why we each need a home all to ourselves. Whatever happened to four generations under one roof? Or, at least a group of Friends? Taking care of each other. Sharing meals around the table, life in the everyday, tools for our labor, and the blessed nuisance of other people up close and personal. Not to go all Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution on you all, because that guy freaks me out a bit. Mostly because I am afraid that he is right.
But then I think I know why. At least when I use our own little extended family as an example, I can see why. We all want different things out of life, and each part of the family pursues its desires separately. Including 3 houses (4, if you count the farm house), multiple acreages, 2 tractors, at least 5 lawn mowers, and all the time & resources it takes to upkeep all of that. You know, the American Way. Individual rights over societal (or familial) needs every day of the week. “This contemporary human condition (isolation) flows out of… a culture of individualism, which promises to us the best – only to inflict upon us the disease of loneliness” (Frazee, p. 110).
And its just plain hard. Sharing life and our spaces. Even for those of us who want to so badly. Like my friend who shared this, “I do feel God calling us here to be in community, but that my heart isn’t always in the right place. I want to have a generous heart and a loving and life-giving nature! We have a small home (very small) – and the numbers of children in and out as well as the noise level is often more than I enjoy. I am an introvert by nature. This summer the number of children coming around and hanging out has nearly doubled – great! We have had fun outdoors and they are truly wonderful kids – but now the days are getting colder and shorter and everyone wants to play inside. There is added noise and smells and squabbles. It honestly makes me a bit stressed out sometimes – so I ask for prayer that I can be a positive and encouraging host (my husband always is) and I seem to come across as the ornery rule enforcing mama. I want our home to be a place people want to be in community – and experience ‘life together.'”
Amen, Sister. I feel your pain and love your heart.
And while I have way more angst than answers (at least realistic ones), might I make a few simple suggestions? Start considering ways that you can create margin in your life. And maybe even share them with us here that we might learn a simpler way of living. And then, the next time you see a “dead woman walking,” unshackle yourself from the couch & mind-numbing technology long enough to be a human in the flesh for her and perhaps in the process rescue both her and you from the prison of isolation. A stay of execution. If only for a moment. And again. And again.