My Grandaddy was the oldest of 17. That’s right. He had 16 brothers and sisters. A pair of his siblings were twins, named Mary and Joseph, his mother having named each of her children after someone in the Bible. Granddaddy was what I’d call an entrepreneur in his day. He was a farmer, not a sharecropper, because he owned his own land. He sold milk, eggs, and butter on the weekends, and worked at a local mill during the week. He also had a vineyard, and was said to have gone to jail for selling moonshine three times. Each of his children had their own cow, which they were responsible for milking and caring for per Grandaddy’s expectations. Momma said she named her cow Fred because she was so young when he was “given” to her she did not realize cows were girls. She tells us stories about getting up early in the cold, milking cows, helping Aunt Gloria fetch her cow who liked to run away from where she was supposed to be, picking cotton before breakfast, and growing up in a time where people lived off the land and had a mutual respect and interdependence with it.
Other than these stories, I can offer no similar recollections. From one generation to the very next, things can change, and they did for us. However, these stories offer me something greater than just knowledge of family history and traditions. They help me understand the value system I now hold dear and give me an immense amount of respect for my family and all they’ve experienced. That interdependence, the land and its people or the people and their land, is something that’s missing in our world today. In Momma’s time, people believed that community and mutual interdependence were necessary for success. Within families and among neighbors, people helped one another. From borrowing an egg or cup of sugar to sharing a meal, interdependence was not only necessary for survival. It was expected and enjoyed. Today, society seems overrun with a focus on self. Personalization seems to be the marketing genius of every new product. Even the ads on our phones are “made just for us” thanks to an algorithm that takes note of our likes, purchases, and technological behavior.
Before anyone makes an assumption that this is an anti-technology post, let me make a point of clarity. It isn’t. This is a pro-community post. In the midst of all the technological changes of the world, it seems to me that the connection we so desperately need and many are seeking, won’t be rectified by going live on IG, TikTok, or even with the opportunity to FaceTime our friends and family. If there is one thing I’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s that we need to be in the physical presence of one another. While those substitutes may help us bridge the gap in the short term, the human condition won’t be sustained and the disease of loneliness won’t be healed with these methods. Good old fashioned living room sitting, chatting, and sharing the same physical space honors the interdependence that human beings need to thrive.
I imagine the world we live in would be quite different if we were to honor the fact that we need to be in relationship (romantically or otherwise) with others to thrive and that those interactions serve us better when we share the same physical space with others. So how do we move from a world where we count our friends by the number of followers we have and who we are connected to through Facebook to the ones who sit with us in our grief, share with us in our joy, and enjoy our company in the physical sense?
I don’t have the answers, but here’s what I’m going to try in 2022. I want to spend more time in the company of those who are important to me. When safety allows and whenever possible, I’d like that to be time where we are physically present one with another. I intend to share more laughs, smiles, and story swapping over coffee or cocktail with the persons who I believe I share a sense of interdependence with and need in order to thrive. The list isn’t long, but it doesn’t have to be if the quality of the connection is solid and strong. I’m convinced that if we all did more of that, this hyper sense of individualism that America seems to be infected with right now would shift. Instead, we would see and understand that our humanity is connected to that of our neighbors and friends, and that no matter what we achieve individually, we are only as valuable as the community we are connected to is. Just like Grandaddy needed that land to feed and take care of his family, we need each other too, and when we honor that need, we all can thrive.
Y’all be easy,