My stomach lurches every time I look at this photo. How can this be happening in upscale Santa Barbara? This woman could be my neighbor, the grandmother in the pew next to mine at church, she could be that woman struggling along with me at Pilates class. She probably went to college, paid her bills on time, baked cookies for the PTO, raised a family. Or so it would seem.
Maybe not. Maybe she lived wildly beyond her means, enrolling her kids in expensive private schools, indulging in spas and Mediterranean cruises, driving a Lexus. Rotating credit cards for payment, betting on the return of the pre-recession economy. Or maybe she was forced out of a longterm marriage by a deluded husband frantically trying to recapture his youth. Or maybe she’s a widow bankrupted by overwhelming medical bills.
Maybe. But is something more fundamental in play? In our frenzied rush to achieve “success,” have we have forgotten our need for each other? Have we lost our communities?
I grew up in a tight community. And I hated it. Everyone knew everything you did, and worse, attributed it to your genetics. If your family was properous, that predestined your success, despite all distressing evidence to the contrary. If as in my case, your family
were not wealthy landowners, city fathers or otherwise distinguished, you were not expected to rise above your family’s social standing. No credential, diploma or bank statement could refute this. That was the down side, the only side, I saw growing up.
But no one, no matter what color or family circumstances. NO ONE lived in a car or wanted for food or clean clothes. This was not because were endowed with unnatural virtue or were a microcosm of Christian charity. Far from it. We were mean-spirited, kind, generous, greedy, intellectually gifted and psychotic, industrious, and lazy; like people everywhere. With one major exception: We needed each other. No one had to tell us that. We knew it by birth; we were a poor farming community; if we were to survive, it meant cooperation. It meant community. In our case, a community formed around a church.
The little community still exists; thrives, in fact, and its people are still just as flawed and nosy. Inevitably, though, time has brought change. Its members are more diverse, better educated, more tolerant now. But community foundation never changed. If a neighbor’s house is damaged by flood or fire, the community rebuilds the house and supplies food and clothes. A member’s bad medical diagnosis triggers a rotation of members to supply food and housekeeping. Extra rows are planted in gardens for needy members. The list goes on. And this is why such a photo could never have been, never will be, taken in that community.
So I wonder. Why have our larger urban communities failed this woman? Does she not meet some tedious beaurocratic requirement? Is she in need of psychiatric help? Are there so many like her that community organizations are overwhelmed? Is it even possible for government to organize community? Or can lasting community be forged only on the anvil of fundamental interdependence? Is her plight, then, simply the logical outcome of a society who has forgotten this fundamental truth?