Now, as Dreher explains, he is not proselytizing for moving back to your hometown. Dreher is right to recognize that most people aren’t willing or able to change their lives so drastically. Indeed, he wasn’t willing until the worst thing imaginable happened and he lost his sister. But there are other ways to take Dreher’s message to heart. A meal-train, for example, is a small way to emulate the physical community Dreher proves why it is so important.
Traditionally, members of a community, family, neighbors, and friends brought food to one another without asking when one family hit hard times, welcomed a baby, or were mourning the loss of a loved one. Nowadays, as Dreher admits, most people not only don’t live where they were raised, they don’t really know their neighbors, they don’t live near family and their friends may be spread across the city to the suburbs and across the state. There just isn’t the same culture of physical proximity and people helping those immediately surrounding them.
But not all traditions of physical communities have completely died out. Just consider the technology being put to use through online services like Mealtrain and takethemameal. Both are sites dedicated to making the support of your physical community easier and more prevalent by registering, scheduling, and coordinating meals for those who need a little help. And a lot of people are recognizing the value of building physical community through providing meals to friends and neighbors.
Since this book came out, I hear fairly regularly from people that they would never move back to be around their families, because their families are cesspits of alcoholism, drug abuse, and dysfunction. I get that. It would be wrong to come away from reading Little Way thinking that I’m prescribing life in a small town as a solution for everybody. As Abby grasps, the point is not so much to prescribe a geographical cure as it is to point out the deep value of stability, in the Benedictine sense, and relationships (the deep cultivation and maintenance of which requires stability). You can find that in a big city too — it is probably harder, though, because of geography. When I was in Dallas this week, someone mentioned to me how strange it seems that we so naturally talk about selling houses and changing neighborhoods as if it were the most normal thing in the world — and that psychological disposition, said my friend, works against strong community.
Hey, did you see that Little Way is one of the Biography picks of the month on Barnes&Noble.com? Thanks, Ed!