I think it was the poet Gary Snider who said the answer to our environmental problems can be said in two words
– Stay put
It is also the answer to keeping families together, which is one of the most important things we can do to reform our society. Building a strong society starts with building strong small communities and that has to include families in order to be vital and enduring from generation to generation.
Here is my story. This is from the story “Barbara and Me in Europe” from the Travel section of my book. Our story is typical. It is what has to be reversed in our minds and in our decisions and in what we teach our children.
Barbara and I were like all other young couples pursuing professional careers, living in an idyllic college town which could not accommodate both careers. Tough decisions had to be made.
We live a time of individualism. We are told:
– Go off into the world and pursue your dream – go wherever you have the greatest opportunities to make the most of yourself.
Barbara’s father had disrupted his family and moved them from a rural beatific environment at Cold Spring Harbor to the urban excitement of Pittsburgh. By the time they were adjusted and thriving, he pursued his career to be chair of the Biology Dept. at UC Santa Barbara, and the family was wrenched out of their community and connections and made to adapt to a Southern California environment.
I had decided on a whim, with a little bit of vanity, to apply to seminary at Princeton. That decision put me in proximity to Barbara, who had finally made her way back to the east coast where she belonged. But I was every inch a Californian and when I returned there I pulled Barbara back with me where she dutifully finished her undergraduate degree. But we both knew she couldn’t stay there. Barbara had studied summers with Berl Synovsky at the Music Academy of the West in Montecito near Santa Barbara. He invited her to continue her studies at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She applied for the MA program and was accepted.
We moved to the east coast in 1971, first Baltimore, then Boston. It was too late for us; for our birth families. We had siblings in the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, and nieces and nephews and cousins all over the map. But we taught our children the importance of family and staying put. Our children went to college in Massachusetts, and married partners with family in Boston.
I was once talking with my daughter, Anna, of my feelings about California and my faint desire to return.
– You can’t retire to California. You raised us here, we live here, so you have to stay here.
She was right. At some point we all just need to stay put and rebuild our families and stop flying all over the place to reconnect with our families or travel the world to see how other cultures have managed to maintain their traditions through small communities. We have to do it ourselves.
Stay put. Our earth will be better off, as will we.