This is not a pleasant word for me. It brings up inner challenges in the commitment to write one’s truth. The prods and pokes of fear are pushing me towards keeping things small. Safe. Predictable. I’m learning how easy it is to slip into a provincial–narrow-minded–state of mind as I sit down every week to put these thoughts into W.O.R.D.S. The provincial promises safety, but there is no reality in it.
“Keep the point of view narrow.” But a narrow point of view is like going backwards. Like so many provincial serving politicians today. No thanks.
Dreams are a critical piece of my internal GPS system. They direct me to places I need to explore, and, on several occasions, when the thick broth of memory drips into my sleep, I travel back to a time where we experienced joy in a solidly provincial world on my grandfather’s farm in South Carolina. In these dreams, I am wandering the landscape of the farm. Over there are the pigs. Here are the chickens. Down that path are the grape vines. There are the fig trees there, and over there are the fields of vegetables and fruit. Sometimes I am standing on the back stoop or sitting on the front porch or looking out the window over my grandmother’s wood burning stove. We would heat the irons to press our clothes on that stove. Sometimes I am staring up in the inky black sky at the constellations and losing myself in their depth. I know what the safety of provincial feels like.
I remember glorious mornings when we kids harvested corn, vegetables, and fruit in the mid-morning sun. The corn husks and corn silk caused my skin to itch miserably, and although I complained, I knew that by dinner we’d be sucking on sweet, juicy kernels lathered with fresh butter.
Oh, darn. I forgot about the scary corn worms. And that, my friends, is the problem with nostalgia—aka narrow thinking. It’ll leave out those worrisome corn worms of life every time.
Our visits were fun because we did not have the burden of being trapped in the restrictively hard farm work like other kids and relatives. We would always go home to our own restrictions. Theirs was a world of fiercely provincial ideas that kept them safe from the outside world, and while there, we fell in line with those restrictions. Given the life-threatening politics of the time, I understand that provincialism was a positive force in saving lives. So, it bothers me to hear:
“Things were better in the old days. People were better when they followed tradition.” Really?
I want to burn the bridges to these words, these proclamations that amount to painting ourselves into a corner of life with a teeny, tiny brush. Rural provincialism had a life-saving purpose. But that was then; this is now.
Everyone longs for a safety net of predictability, but aren’t narrow views weighted with constrictions and fears that keep us from seeing the bigger world up close and personal? It seems to me that this yearning for a return to a simpler life is accompanied by fear. Fear is accompanied by ignorance, and ignorance cheers the repression of civil liberties and a person’s right to make his or her own choices.
I met a woman who has lived in Philly her whole life and never once ventured outside the one or two miles where she lives, works, and prays. She did not know anything about the lives of the other cultures with whom she worked. She had never been to the Italian Market or Reading Terminal Market or visited Old City. Yet, she had some very strong, narrow and wrong views of how to whip the 21st century world into shape. Efforts to keep things small, predictable, and controlled always fail. Look at Prohibition.
This evening I went to a local observatory to watch the waxing moon through high-powered binoculars. I don’t have words (me who can rattle on) for the breathtaking beauty of the crescent and the clearly outlined shadowed side. The sky was salted with stars, and the constellation Orion so huge and clear it felt as if it enveloped the earth. Looking through the telescope, I was stunned by the sight of Jupiter with two bold stripes across its body (rings) and two of its moons. The universe does not offer a provincial view.
There is so much to see, to do, to experience. So much that can open our hearts to the beauty of being alive. But we won’t know this if we keep looking backwards, yearning for a life that’s all Andy Griffith-y and Mayberry, without those worrisome, but necessary corn worms and beautiful, but itchy corn silk.
Can we, as a nation, afford it? What do you think?