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