Community Marriage

Herd About It?

by Ana Grarian

“People who love each other need to have something they can do for each other, and it will need to be something necessary, not something frivolous. You can’t carry out a relationship on the basis of Christmas and anniversary and birthday presents. It won’t work. You have to be doing something that you need help with, and your wife needs to be doing something that she needs help with. You do needful, useful things for each other, and that seems to me to be the way that the union is made. You’re not in control of a union that’s made partly as an economy, as a domestic economy. You’re being shaped by it, you’re not shaping it. You’re being made into a partner by your partner’s needs and the things that you’re required to do ..”

-Wendell Berry from an interview in The Kentucky Review, 1991

I would add to these ideas that community, that larger relationship, is held together by people doing for one another. Necessary things like volunteer fire departments, fund raisers for the neighbor who is facing a severe adversity, casseroles delivered to the homes of the grieving, visits to the shut in, the neighbor who becomes an adult friend your kids can turn to. In community as in a marriage these acts of kindness help us to overlook our differences, help us to see the humanity below the dogma or politics.

It is harder to generalize about people when we know them personally. That guy with the red neck and missing teeth is the man who loans us his baler when ours breaks down. The ex-wife pushed us out of a snow bank and made sure we were safe to go on. The pinko-liberal mowed our lawn when we couldn’t. Those old ladies keep our polling places going on election day.

I may disagree with you but we will work together when our neighbor needs us. We will play together at the firemen’s carnival. We will joke with one another at the gas station.

This is what I love about my rural community and it is what we are losing as more of us have been drained off to the city to earn a livelihood, or moved from place to place by business that distrusts connection between boss and employee. I am no longer home to help when you run out of gas, or have a flat. Our mail and paper are there when we get home in the dark and we have not had the chance to wave or chat at the mailbox. I no longer know what car my neighbor drives and so am suspect of that person who drives by slowly or seems to be following the school bus.

I know a gnarled old farmer, Korean war veteran, who is brought to tears when he remembers how his community came together to keep his farm going when he had a serious accident. Can you imagine knowing your neighbor well enough to run his business for him, with a group of other volunteers, who have jobs/businesses of their own to run?

Would you even know if your neighbor needed your help?