catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 2 :: 2006.01.27 — 2006.02.09


Getting away

Our housemates just returned last weekend from a nearly month-long tour of India. Though we are extremely jealous, we are glad to be able to experience their trip a bit through their stories.

In their telling of the differences between the cultures in India and the U.S., the words “primitive” and “rudimentary” came up often in respect to sanitation (or lack of), food preparation, commerce and other elements. For all that India has contributed to the world, it was amazing to them to see how the areas they visited were generally impoverished and dirty.

However, as is often the case of cultures we North Americans perceive as dirty or behind the times, Indian culture is rich in other qualities which we can never hope to gain or re-gain. The people our housemates met on their trip maintained deep connections to family and tradition, which begs the question of whether societal “progress” must always be accompanied by homogenization and sterility.

The major difference it seems from listening to their account is one of distance and closeness. Where Indian culture is necessarily about being close?to others, to waste, to the sources of food?U.S. culture seems to be about getting away?from people, from creation, from our “messes.” Where Indians have a culture in which men still use touch to communicate friendship, holding hands and touching one another’s hair and faces, we have technology that allows us to both work and play from the comfort of our living rooms. Where Indians have trash cluttering their streets and temples, we have epidemic depression and anxiety. The benefits and the drawbacks of both cultures are complexly intertwined, offering much to consider when we hold up both other world cultures and cultures of the past as being more ideal than our own.

While our housemates were in India, Rob and I took a weekend trip to Ontario, where we visited our friends’ farm. Though today’s technology is not conspicuously lacking on the farm, several choices of that particular household intentionally go against the flow of modern progress. The house is powered by sun and wind, while two woodstoves are used for heating and cooking. A summer kitchen near the garden has a propane stove and plenty of room for canning. Morning chores include feeding and watering the chickens and cows. While critics might be tempted to scorn the farm as a mere intellectual experiment, we were impressed by our friends’ realistic and hopeful commitment to live in better relationship with the land as an expression of faith. We were refreshed by the proper blend of the exceptional and the ordinary, the past and the present, the artful and the utilitarian, the full and the quiet.

Both the trip to Ontario and our housemates’ trip to India reminded me that the tactile possibilities of life must not be forsaken for a virtual and intangible progress. In fact, I’ll be talking with them in the coming weeks about becoming more involved in our backyard garden, as I’m sensing that there’s a nourishment I’m lacking from having left my gardening behind when we moved to Michigan. There is something mysteriously satisfying about eating a peach from your own tree or standing back to look at a shed you built yourself or gratifying the impulse to hold a dear friend’s hand. Technology is not a substitute for all necessary good things and we must be careful not to starve our spirits of relationship, of closeness, with our surroundings.

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