I recently attended a dinner at the Elks Club in Potsdam. It was celebrating the 90th anniversary of the local chapter of Rotary International, and was a fundraiser for a newer organization, Local Living Venture, which among other missions supports education in rural skills and sustainable living.
I am a member of none of these organizations, but it prompted me to recall that I grew up in a community, and family, whose life was closely interlinked in a web of service clubs and churches and youth organizations and sports leagues that in a large sense were the village.
My dad was a lifelong Mason, my mom and my sister were Eastern Stars. Everyone in the family was involved in scouting either as scouts or volunteer hosts and leaders. Services at Potsdam Presbyterian began our Sundays, and church activities were always on the calendar – dinners, outings, service projects.
We live in a more solitary time now. The Masonic temple where my scout troop met is now a burger bistro. The ranks at Potsdam Presbyterian are comparatively thin and gray. And the village seems a little unglued. This pattern seems to be the case across rural America. Families are spread across the continent, and our affiliations in the real world are fewer and weaker, no matter how many friends we have on Facebook.
It makes me wonder if this is a sustainable way of life, and if not, what the remedy might be. I wonder if this is some inevitable consequence of being an American, a nation of people who cut ties and left behind their clans and extended families and cultures to look for something different, to find something better for themselves, or just to escape from violence and oppression when their old worlds had become unglued.
It makes me wonder what we trade away to grasp our opportunities.