…when a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. How can they know one another if they have forgotten or never learned one another’s stories? If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover they fear one another. And this is our predicament now. Because of a general distrust and suspicion, we not only lose one another’s help and companionship, but we are all now living in jeopardy of being sued. –Wendell Berry, “The Work of Local Culture” in What are People for?, 157
This comment by Wendell Berry struck me, mainly because I do not know my neighbors. I know one of my neighbors, his name is Pedro, along with some of his family members. I’ve heard much of his story while standing in the yard. He’s a great guy. But he is only one person among many other neighbors who I do not know.
Growing up my neighborhood in East Texas was a vibrant place. We lived in between the Francis family (later the Townsends) and the Pools (later the Jabrs). The Adams family lived down the street (no joke). The Deerdorfs and the Hagars were nearby, and the Evans lived three houses down. The Martins lived next door to the Evans. The Bergfields and the Daughertys lived down the hill. Our families seemed to be on kindly terms. My access to these families came through the presence of friends who were about my age. As we played baseball or football in the front yard we came to know one another a bit better. Sometimes I went over to my friends’ homes and we played for a while. On these occasions I came to know older and younger siblings, moms and dads, and sometimes even grandparents.
This brings me back to Pedro. One day as I was standing out front talking to him about nothing, there was plenty of traffic up and down our street. There is a high Hispanic population in our neighborhood, and every time someone drove by Pedro could tell me their name, and a little bit of their story. There were people he respected, and others that he didn’t. I was blown away. Pedro has lived in De Soto much longer than me, but still! He’s worked alongside many of these people and spent time with them. As a commuter to both Lawrence and Gardner, I haven’t had many occasions to be present in my own city. Being part of a community takes work, and the simplicity of being there. I think this is captured well in another quote from Wendell Berry:
I was walking one Sunday afternoon several years ago with an older friend. We went by the ruining log house that had belonged to his grandparents and great-grandparents. The house stirred my friend’s memory, and he told how the oldtime people used to visit each other in the evenings, especially in the long evening of the winter. There used to be a sort of institution in our part of the country known as “sitting till bedtime.” After supper, when they weren’t too tired, neighbors would walk across the fields to visit each other. They popped corn, my friend said, and ate apples and talked. They told each other stories. They told each other stories, as I knew myself, that they all had heard before. Sometimes they told stories about each other, about themselves, living again in their own memories and thus keeping their memories alive. Among the hearers of these stories were always the children. When bedtime came, the visitors lit their lanterns and went home. My friend talked about this, and thought about it, and then he said, “They had everything but money.” — Berry, “The Work of Local Culture”, 158
The work that is done in cities through various associations, whether they be clubs, churches, or whatever, is critical for living a full life. As far as it relates to the church, it is my hope that the church would be a place where we are able to sit and tell stories–the stories of Scripture and how those stories have impacted and shaped our lives. I also hope that children are nearby as we tell these stories, stories of both triumph and defeat. By doing so the memory of the community is strengthened. To “remember” is critical for the people of God. Creating such spaces within our communities will produce a treasure trove which is beyond measure. It is my hope that we would be such a people who would slow down long enough to keep our memories alive.