NPR did a story last night on Fishermen and the coping mechanisms that they use to get through the vagaries of their occupations. They talked about having strong, cooperative communities where no one has to survive in a vacuum. They talked a little about what they have in terms of a house and family, and they discussed why they stayed in the fishing industry.
Of course, they had to break out some of the old Ernest Hemmingway clichés about a single man against the sea, salt water and freedom… But beyond that: these families have multi-generational operations. Fathers hand over their boats and businesses to their sons. People in our culture are signing up to be sweaty and dirty with stinky hands and risk in their lives, all for the pleasure of maybe being able to afford a modest house sometime – certainly no McMansion – and clearly no Prada shoes for the little wife. These people with their small lives are a story.
What the hell is going on with our culture? Everyone wants BIG, and we are so bloody miserable in our pursuit of BIG. Big house, big life, big career, big car, big portfolio, big degree, big bank account…
Big losses, big fraud, big disappointment, big disaster, big bills, big pills, big failure. No community, no safety net, no solace, nowhere to turn, no peace.
And I’m not advocating the no Jesus/no peace – know Jesus/know peace bumper sticker solution. Anyway, all that really does is tie you into a community – a church community – and people start feeling better when they know that someone would notice if they died.
I’m advocating scaling back on our expectations. Every generation seems to think that it should do bigger and better than the generation before. Which is fine. But what’s wrong with a house somewhere, a family, a car, and a life? 40 hour work week, a garden, kids that excel but aren’t necessarily amazing? A fireplace, pictures of cake smeared on the 2-year old twins faces?
Is there a point to a life in those dimensions? No big waves, no jet-setting off to China for a business meeting. Or is that what most of America really wants and it’s only the media that belittles a small life and/or makes it seem like manageable is irrelevant?
Maybe I can’t blame media too much. I am equally attracted to and repelled by the concept of a small town life, though I couldn’t come up with the practical difference it would make in my life on a day-to-day basis. On the upside, it would be easier to stay healthy because I’d have more time to cook, garden and be active (though really, who am I kidding? I’ll grow basil and that’s about it.) On the downside, the range of experiences that make up my current circle of friends is unlikely in a small town somewhere. But maybe in a small town, we’d do dinner together a little more often.
All I know is that big does not equal happy. Maybe small doesn’t either.