Donnie and I moved from our “downtown” house in Norway to be away from the hustle and bustle of “the city.” Away from people, in other words. From our new windows, we see few signs of other humanity.

Although we are away from the “crowd,” we are anything but alone up here on Stearns Hill. Ironically, in spite of our desire to live outside of any populated area, our greatest joy is the community that surrounds us. Just beyond the views that give the illusion of isolation are houses filled with people we have come to love. We are surrounded by friends and neighbors who have embraced us into their community, in spite of the fact that we built a house on what was once part of their wilderness.

I’m not sure what makes humans want to escape to the wilderness. Henry David Thoreau was probably one of the most famous for hiking into the wilderness. He built a little cabin on Walden Pond and wrote about what he observed. At the risk of raising the ire of Thoreau fans, whatever else drove him, in part this was an intellectual exercise. He needed time to think, which he did. His writings are now an important part of American history. But after his two years, he returned to civilization and there among a community spent the rest of his days.

Without doubt, we are social animals. Remember back to the ice storm in 1998 whose anniversary is this month? Differences ceased to exist as we gathered together to help each other survive a common catastrophe. True it wasn’t as significant as some catastrophes that have befallen us, but it was enough so we would have been in much trouble without our neighbors.

A more serious disaster happened Sept. 11, 2001, a time when we truly needed each other and stood together as a common community against a common terror. The spirit of the individual never shined so brightly as ordinary people committed extraordinary altruistic acts of courage in coming to the aid of their fellows in the face of certain danger.

Like the ’60s

History records similar events when Americans held fast to one other in the face of a common situation. World Wars I and II were times when the country, as one, supported the troops abroad and worked together on the home front to help those young men and women in the military.

The death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt was another. My mother remembers walking to a railroad so she could watch the train go by carrying Roosevelt’s body. She remembered her tears and the sadness she felt because this man had an impact on her life personally.

Likewise, I remember the assassination of President John Kenney, another time of American solidarity as we collectively mourned a personal and national tragedy.

I cannot think of that time without tears getting stuck in the back of my throat. The ’60s divided the American community, but we were one in our sorrow over the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy and John Kennedy.

Yes, I’m aware of times when our country hasn’t been united, when communities haven’t been together, when families are feuding, when people are fighting each other. And at the beginning of this new year, I’m certainly aware that our country is now divided almost as hurtfully as it was during the ’60s. I don’t think I need to remind anyone of this division. What I would like to remind us is how much we need each other.

Our own ‘packs’

Whether we like it or not, humans are biologically programmed, like wolves, to congregate in packs, only we call our groups family, community and country. This is such an important notion that our very lives depend on it.

At the beginning of another year, my mind is very much on our need for each other, and the often mindless way we brush aside this fact. I lost my mother this past year. I watched as she grew more and more dependent. I became the mother of my mother. My mind was constantly on what I needed to do for her.

It never occurred to me how much I needed her. Now I catch myself on a daily basis thinking of things I want to tell her, things only a mother would be interested in. But she is gone and no amount of wishing can bring her back for even one tiny conversation.

With that in mind, my New Year’s wish is to try not to take the people in my life for granted, especially my family, but also my community and my country.

Maybe if we could look at each other through different eyes, it would make a difference.

Jeanette Baldridge is a writer and teacher who lives in West Paris. She may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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