The ups and downs of here and there: More than Geography.Where? The Greater Vicinities of . . . Here: Burlington, Vermont There: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Question 1: Where does your food come from? Here in Vermont, when someone asks you where your food came from, they are generally referring to which local farm or value added food maker provided you with your meal. If, by some grave chance, it is February and you are eating a California spinach salad with Israeli red peppers. Well, to put it lightly, you may be politely, er, shunned. Further south, this question is simple. Where, exactly did you get that delicious looking sandwich? Wherever you picked up and paid for said sandwich is the only answer required. Question 2: How’s the weather? In Philadelphia. It has been so cold! It’s been in the 30s all week. We’re freezing our butts off. Here? It’s a beautiful day, supposed to be high in the mid-20s, so it’d be a good day to go for a walk. Question 3: What do you do? Back home, you may hear any variety of answers, I’m a teacher, a union carpenter, a police officer, a dentist. Here, we volunteer at the food shelf, work on unpublished manuscripts, play music, or often are making plans to do something else.
There are many questions that follow this interpretation model of duality. No, it is not universal, ubiquitous, all-encompassing. But. It is noticeable. There are pockets of the “Burlington version” in every community. There are pockets of the “Philadelphia version” as well. What is striking is how one seems to be much more demanding. One requests innovation and forward thinking, positive mental attitude and aspirations. Ambition. One seems largely content with what is.
It is not that I am frowning on those that may wish to make the world a better place, to the contrary. It is the rigidness that is put on those values, as if to say that any different (less, perhaps), is unacceptable.
My generation, and those flanking my own, have grown up to believe that we can be and do whatever we want with hard work, dedication, perseverance. We have set out to change the world with grand feats, but we find at the end of the day it is never enough.
The world persists. Hunger, violence, cruelty. We feel as though we have failed, because we believe we can change it, but haven’t. We use the words of the former generations and believe them into action. We sell out. We burn out. We give up.
Suddenly, the world and its millions of years of problem upon problem is on our shoulders, because it is our job to save it. And we can’t.
We make choices. Take jobs. Force hobbies. So that, when we are asked the questions we can give the right answers. We are great and it is our fault that we can’t figure out how to be okay.
All of us. The pieces fall together. The uniqueness fades and suddenly we are left with a sea of ordinary people doing nothing special at all. Is there anything as uniting as knowing that we are not any more (or less) special than any one of our fellow men? From the bum to the president. Each infinitely capable, except for the exception that they have only one life, at least this time around.
Is the job of each individual, not special, but united in sameness to rise, or to truly humble the self to see what happens when he falls? Whatever choices the man makes, the self remains. The possibility waits, passes through and respects the self that could hold the most powerful office of state, but instead works his way off the street and holds a job at a gas station.
When we cling to the things we’ve done, the edifices we’ve built, the people who admire us, we are only looking for something to cure us of our homesick blues. We are not what we do. It is true, we can be and do whatever we want, but our value lies elsewhere. No matter the achievements, we will always be great, simply because we are. It is the home, at the bottom of the breath, where the sparks set flame.