There seems to be a flood of good friends flowing to heaven lately.
When I moved to Dumont from Noxon, Montana in 1977 no one close to me had died. I was twenty-six. Grandpa Barlow had written to say Grandma was in the nursing home dying of lung cancer, even though I doubt Minnie had ever even smelled a smoke filled room.
As Grandpa and I walked the aisle on the way to Grandma’s room we passed some friends who said, “She didn’t even know us.” I leaned over her and she said (after not seeing me for a year), “ Fritz, I don’t like those whiskers.” Never assume anything.
It is strange being a new guy in a town of 700 people. They all know your name and you don’t know any, so you often say “Hi, uh,” and smile and nod. Some strangers took the time to make it a point to welcome the new guy. Those people make the world a beautiful place for a stranger in a strange land.
Although I’m a firm believer that we make a place what it is, with all the trouble in the world, we are truly blessed living here, just like the people in other caring communities. What makes this a community is the fine line between caring for others and gossip.
Gossip can be destructive when it interferes with relationships. We happened to watch the very first movie Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis did together last week (a compliment to the memory of Robin Williams). There would have been no point in making it if not for gossip. The story was based on falsehood and assumption.
But gossip can also act as a positive force. In avoiding gossip we restrict our behavior in a way that is more civil than simply obeying the law. We might play a game of catch with the kids out in the yard, instead of yelling at them and telling them to go play in the street. We can’t deny some of this comes from caring what the neighbors think of us. We might pull weeds around the house and put some stuff away to avoid being the object of gossip about how lazy or sloppy we are, not because the nuisance enforcement officer will visit. That’s not a bad thing. It is part of a sense of community.
I’ve often thought, when I go to town or meet people on the road out here in the country, what joy our neighbors bring to our lives. Part of that joy is pride in the discipline they inspire. Something as simple as a firm handshake or a greeting with your name can make a day full of trials into a challenge to meet those trials with positive solutions.
It is easy to imagine our community as being an exclusive example of this caring, yet disciplined society. But I’ve traveled all over this country and a healthy suspicion of strangers was always ready to make way for acceptance everywhere I went. An air of self reliance and attitude of generosity invited that acceptance.
As I think of the wonderful friends and family that we’ve lost recently they become almost super-human, kinda like when sports announcers proclaim every athlete who’s having a good game to be the best of our time. But that’s the thing; they are that exceptional, at that time.
This is going on all over the world, these tiny relationships that keep us going on. The people in these relationships are the real heroes. The people who manipulate these individuals into groups so the disconnect can be used to defeat that natural sense of community are the anti-heroes. We see it today in the Middle East, Ukraine and Ferguson, Missouri.
The challenge to us who our heroes have left behind, is to resist groupthink and be civil individuals to honor their memory.